Population boom pushes numbers sitting Junior Cert to a 15-year high
The population boom has pushed the number of students sitting the Junior Cert exams to their highest level for years.
Overall, 121,470 candidates are entered for the Leaving or Junior Cert exams, starting in schools and other examination centres around the country tomorrow.
The 59,394 Leaving Certificate students - including 2,814 taking the Leaving Cert Applied - show little change from last year. However, the 62,076 Junior Cert candidates, the highest for at least 15 years, reflect the rising wave of second-level enrolments.
Junior Cert entries are up almost 1,500 from 60,652 in 2016, a surge that will start showing in the Leaving Cert in two to three years.
Second-level school pupil numbers will continue to grow until the mid 2020s, arising from the relatively high birth rates in Ireland since the late 1990s.
The growth in enrolments is fuelling the demand for more second-level schools and, as the pupils come through to the Leaving Cert, will also add to pressure for college places.
Rising school-leaver numbers is one of the factors in the debate around the need for a sustainable funding model for higher education.
Running the State exams is a major logistical exercise, with a total of four million Leaving and Junior Cert papers with up to 50 million individual A4 pages, prepared for 5,170 standard exam centres.
The process of handing over locked boxes containing the exam papers to centre superintendents has been going on over the bank holiday weekend. As well as the normal examination centres, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) also provides special centres for students with particular needs.
Last year, there were 10,685 special centres set up for 16,764 candidates - 14pc of the overall exam cohort - who needed supports, such as a scribe or a laptop, to enable them to do the exams. Special centres may also be set up in hospitals to cater for candidates who have had an accident or unexpected surgery.
There has been an ongoing rise in the number of students with difficulties with reading, written language or co-ordination, who are awarded what is known as a reasonable accommodation to enable them to get through the exams and to show their academic ability.
Between 2013 and 2016, the number of special centres rose from 9,610 to 10,685.
This year sees a Leaving Cert exam in Slovenian for the first time. As well as the traditional languages, the SEC also provides exams in other, non curricular languages, if there is a demand from even one student.
Non-curricular languages are not a feature of the normal school curriculum, but will be provided subject to certain criteria, including that the student is from an EU member state, has studied for the Leaving Cert and is also taking Leaving Cert English.
A total of 1,500 candidates have entered for one of the non-curricular languages, almost half of them, 726, taking Polish, followed by Lithuanian and Romanian. Others are Dutch, Portuguese, Latvian. Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian, Bulgarian, Croatian, Finnish, Estonian, Danish and Swedish.