The wait ends this morning for thousands of former secondary school students with the delivery of the much anticipated 2021 Leaving Certificate results.
Today’s results are being released about three weeks later than usual, and some higher education institutions have delayed the planned enrolment of first-year students as a result.
While this year’s 61,125-strong crop of students may have experienced less disruption than those who completed the Leaving Cert process last year, their final year in school was not without its challenges.
Minister for Education Norma Foley recognised as much in June when she said the difficulties posed by the pandemic had resulted in an "unprecedented 18 months" for Leaving Cert students who had "worked very hard in difficult circumstances".
Of the total number of students completing the Leaving Cert this year, Department of Education figures show 57,952 students were registered for the Leaving Certificate, while 3,173 candidates were registered for the final year of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.
The numbers opting to repeat the Leaving Cert has dropped off in recent years and this was reflected again this year with the 2021 figures including 2,261 external and 744 school-based repeat candidates, compared to the previous year’s 2,509 external and 618 school-based repeat candidates.
The Department of Education went to some lengths to ensure stakeholder views were taken into account when they decided the format of this year’s examination process earlier this year.
As a safety net, the 2021 cohort of students was given a choice of sitting examinations, receiving accredited grades or availing of a combination of both on a subject-by-subject basis.
Candidates who could not sit the examinations due to the pandemic – whether through being a confirmed Covid-19 case, a close contact, or having symptoms of the virus – could avail of accredited grades as a contingency.
It was unsurprising perhaps, that the overwhelming majority of candidates opted for the option of both when they registered their preference through the candidate self-service portal in May.
The vast majority - 52,680 candidates - availed of this option. A total of 5,087 candidates opted to receive accredited grades only while just 185 candidates opted to just sit the examinations only.
This morning, candidates will be issued a single set of results integrating both processes but from 5pm next Tuesday they will have access to a more detailed breakdown outlining component marks and final marks for their written examinations and estimated marks and accredited marks from the accredited grades process.
Students will also be able to apply to view scripts next Tuesday from 5pm.
Break with tradition
This year, in a break with tradition, oral examinations were conducted by teachers in students' schools and recordings were marked later by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).
This attracted some criticism at the time as teachers complained that training was not provided and that detailed instructions were issued just days before the oral exams began.
The SEC said these issues would be addressed in the marking process to the “greatest degree possible”.
Today might be a formality for those students whose results will approximate what they expected to achieve from the outset. For some, there will be surprise as some grades might exceed their expectations while others may be disappointed if the grades do not amount to what they had hoped for.
Results day marks the beginning of a new, exciting chapter for this year’s Leaving Cert candidates and as soon as candidates receive their results, the focus invariably shifts to the release of the CAO’s Round One offers.
Of course it is too soon yet to predict with any degree of accuracy what the outcome of this year's CAO process will be but early indications suggest that grade inflation could have an impact on some courses.
However, not achieving the hoped-for results should not spell disaster for students who hoped to do better, as many will find when they start to look at other options available to them.
These results will mark the first step in a move to third-level education for many while for others, it will mark the beginning of a new learning experience and career opportunities through one of the many thousands of apprenticeships and further education options that are on offer.
It is important to have a back-up plan and, happily, there are some 30,000 places available in further education colleges throughout the country.
The Irish Times will publish a special guide to these Quality & Qualifications Ireland (QQI) validated courses in our special Smart Choices supplement on Tuesday.
It is worth remembering that many of these courses offer an alternative route to attaining a degree.
The Irish Times helpdesk will operate from 12pm-8pm today. Guidance counsellors Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett will be on hand to answer questions about the results and any questions students or their parents might have about the college applications.
The service will also be available 10am-6pm on Saturday. For more information see irishtimes.com/helpdesk
Friday, September 3rd, 12pm- 8pm
Saturday, September 4th, 10am-6pm
Tuesday, September 7th, 12pm-8pm
Wednesday, September 8th, 12pm-8pm
Thursday, September 9th, 12pm-8pm