Schools to decide whether to hold Junior Cycle assessments in May

Students to receive State certificate to mark their completion of three years of school

Schools are to be given the freedom to decide whether to run school-based assessments for Junior Cycle students during May.

The move means exams that were planned for September are officially cancelled and students will have completed their Junior Cycle at the end of May.

It follows growing concern that delaying the exams would lead to unnecessary anxiety among students and logistical problems for schools next autumn.

In addition, the work and achievement of third-year Junior Cycle students will be recognised with a State certificate from the Department of Education.


Among the options schools will be given for conducting assessments include school-designed exams, tasks, projects, assignments, essay-style questions, presentations, or other tasks agreed at a local level.

Guidance for schools on reporting to students and parents, developed with the advice of the advisory group of stakeholders, will be published by the department.

The State Examinations Commission is also being asked to put in place specific arrangements for adult learners to give them an opportunity to take final Junior Cycle exams for which they are entered in autumn 2020.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said he was taking the step after listening to views of students, parents and other stakeholders.

“This decision has been made with the health and wellbeing of students, parents and teachers at the forefront of our thinking,” he said.

“It gives students and their families more clarity and certainty. It also gives schools freedom to decide how best to assess the progress of students following three years of hard work and learning.”

As soon as possible after the end of the current school year, students will receive a written school report on their learning achievements in each subject, short course and/or priority learning unit.

The certificate of completion will issue from the department early in the next school year.

It will provide each student with a certificate confirming completion of the Junior Cycle programme of study, including the list of subjects, short courses and/or priority learning units studied and the level at which the subject was studied.

The decision to cancel exams in September, reported in The Irish Times last Saturday, also means a large majority of hundreds of thousands of printed Junior Cycle exam scripts now look set to be unused.

While Mr McHugh’s original plans involved using official exam scripts in September, many schools pointed out that the absence of a centralised timetable meant they would circulate quickly on social media.


The revised arrangements were welcomed by teachers and education stakeholders on Wednesday.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) said the new approach was informed by principles of fairness and equity.

“We welcome the certainty that these revised arrangements provide at a time of worry, stress and uncertainty for students, parents and teachers,” said TUI president Séamus Laharte.

He said the TUI had made clear to the Department of Education that September exams would be “regressive educationally and would further complicate what is likely to be an extremely challenging process of re-opening schools in September”.

Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland president Deirdre Mac Donald expressed regret that this year's cohort of students would not have the opportunity to sit the examinations as normal.

“The experience of this examination has always been a valuable milestone in the educational experience of Irish students. However, having regard to all the circumstances, the guidelines being issued are the best that can be achieved this year,” she said.

“The pressure of sitting examinations that would have enjoyed no credible status would have imposed unnecessary stress on these students whether they were held prior to the summer holidays or in the autumn.

“We believe that the wellbeing of these students is best served by the freedom to enjoy the summer of 2020 without the pressure of examinations hanging over them.”

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent