Sixth-year students may get choice of mix of exams and calculated grades

Teachers’ unions oppose option of assessing own students and favour exams instead

Leaving Cert students could be given the option of a combination of written exams and calculated grades under plans being considered by the Government.

However, teachers’ unions are opposed to approaches which involve assessing their own students and want exams to go ahead.

The Department of Education has finalised a number of proposals for assessing students which take account of the impact of school closures and uncertainty over whether exams will be able to ahead.

Hospital Report

Sources say they include deferring the exams and opting for calculated grades; a combination of written exams and calculated grades; or an open-access model to allow school-leavers easier access to third level.


The Cabinet subcommittee on education was briefed on Monday by the Minister for Education Norma Foley on the options being considered.

Sources have said it is likely the Cabinet will make a final decision on the plans next Tuesday.

Ministers also discussed potentially holding the exam later in the summer.

The Cabinet appears to be divided on this proposal, however, with some favouring it and others saying it is unlikely to work.

The frontrunner is still a “hybrid” offering where students could potentially pick and mix calculated grades and written exams.

One source said there were fears around what a system of calculated grades would mean for students in terms of their engagement with their subjects and teachers for the next few months ahead of the summer.

‘Educational disconnect’

“There is no perfect option here. One of the risks around calculated grades would be around a potential educational disconnect. If you set calculated grades this far out, how do the students and teacher engage, what would that interaction look like? There is still a fair bit of work to be done,” a source said.

On the reopening of schools, two official sources said the hope is to have all schools open by the end of March depending on the country’s progress in pushing down Covid-19 numbers.

A meeting of the Leaving Cert advisory subgroup – which include students, parents and teachers’ representatives – is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Ms Foley is due to attend the meeting.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it is “hoped discussions will continue over the coming period to explore all the options fully”.

A move to give options for students, such as calculated grades and written exams, is seen in political circles as the preferred option in light of support from students’ and parents’ representatives for such a move.

However, a calculated grades model would require the co-operation of teachers’ unions.

The Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) both want modified exams with greater choice to go ahead.

Modified Leaving Cert

The TUI said it believes there are “enormous difficulties” attached to any proposal to give students a choice over how they are assessed.

The union said it was of a “strong view” that the fairest and most equitable option was holding modified Leaving Cert exams.

Any return to calculated grades, it said, would pose “extreme logistical and educational difficulties”, while it also had concerns over the lack of coursework required for estimated marks.

The ASTI also supports exams this summer, with modified papers and additional choice to take account of school closures.

ASTI president Ann Pigott said giving students choices could mean that some students would have a motivation to stay in school to complete exams while others would not.

“One would involve a grade being given to students and, from our perspective, we would be worried that if a grade is given, does that mean then that motivation is gone? That students would not remain at school in May?” she said.

“What would teachers do if they’re teaching for the Leaving Cert as well? If the choice is given, you will certainly have a huge cohort of students as well who will choose the traditional exam. That would make it very difficult for us.”

However, most students are strongly in favour of being given a choice, according to a poll of 20,000 respondents conducted earlier this month by the Irish Second Level Students’ Union.

It found that just 4 per cent wanted to press ahead with plans for written exams, while a majority favoured a choice between calculated grades and exams.

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

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times