Secondary students want State exams replaced with predicted grades

Students union survey attracts 47,000 responses from Junior and Leaving Cert pupils

Tens of thousands of secondary school students want this year’s State exams to be cancelled and replaced with predicted grades.

In an online survey of 47,000 Junior and Leaving Cert students over the past week, the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union found that most want their grades to be based on their coursework to date due to the disruption caused by schools being closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

At Leaving Cert level, 49 per cent of students are in favour of cancelling the June exams and using already-completed coursework to decide their final grades.

Other less popular options include proceeding with written exams in June while adhering to social distancing (26 per cent) and rescheduling exams to July or August (19 per cent).


At Junior Cert level, some 77 per cent of students are also in favour of cancelling the June exams and using predicted grades.

Other options are much less popular, such as rescheduling exams (9 per cent)or proceeding with the June exams while adhering to social distancing (8 per cent).

When the two exam years are combined, a total of 60 per cent of Junior and Leaving Cert students support cancelling exams and using a predicted grade model.

Other education systems such as the UK’s A-Levels and the International Baccalaureate have cancelled exams and are using assessed or predicted grades based on students’ coursework.


Teachers' unions in Ireland, however, have traditionally been fiercely opposed to grading their own students for the purposes of the State exams.

In the ISSU survey, many students who supported cancelling exams said it would best serve students’ health and wellbeing.

“Going ahead with the exams would not only put students’ health at risk but also would not be fair to students having missed out on a whole semester of learning in school,” one student wrote.

Another said: “We are missing time in school the past few weeks. It is harder to learn new materials for our exams in June. A predictive model would definitely take a lot more stress off students.”

Many also said that while remote learning was a useful fall-back option, it was was not fair or equitable.

“Nothing is as effective as a topic being fully explained to you as a teacher in a classroom environment,” wrote one student.

Another added: “We’re not in a learning environment that is fair and equal for all. Not being in a school setting is detrimental to our Leaving Cert studies. The lockdown, along with the sickness and deaths of friends and family members, is widespread and affects our motivation, work ethic and wellbeing.”

Students were united in their desire for “immediate clarity” from the Department of Education on what the contingency plans are for the State exams.

Many said their stress levels were “going through the roof” due to uncertainty.

“We need to be told what’s actually happening instead of being left hanging before anything is announced,” said one student.

Another said: “The pressure we are facing is like no other exam year. The department should seriously put themselves in the students’ shoes.”


On Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted the State exams will go ahead "by hook or by crook" and that contingency plans were being worked on.

The ISSU survey was conducted online between Thursday 26th March to Wednesday April 1st 2020.

The union said it will advocate on behalf of students with the Department of Education and other education stakeholders for a solution that will “alleviate the stress and uncertainty that has faced students in recent weeks” and which is as “fair as possible to all students”.

The survey is based on a total of 47,000 student responses - more than a third of the 120,000 State exam students - and excludes those who are not in exam years. It includes just over 18,000 Junior Cert students and 28,000 Leaving Cert students.

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