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‘It has been a remarkably difficult year for the class of 2021, but they have shown huge resilience and strength’ – Norma Foley

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Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education Minister Norma Foley. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

We are living in uncertain times, so planning for the future feels even more challenging than usual.

Yet for the Leaving Certificate class of 2021, maintaining a sense of normality as much as possible has been our utmost priority during this global pandemic.

Even the weather appears to be playing its part as the balmy sunshine – normally reserved for the two-week-long exam period – is helping lift spirits across the country.

After what has been an extraordinary 18 months, few cohorts in Irish society deserve some semblance of normality more than this year’s exam classes.

This year the class of 2021 have been afforded the opportunity to opt for Accredited Grades, the established Leaving Certificate or a combination of both. Today will see approximately 61,500 students begin their written Leaving Certificate exams, embarking on an end-of-year journey like no other.

Yes, the cloud of Covid still remains, but this week saw the number of vaccines administered reaching three million doses and more hopeful days are on the horizon.

For the courageous class of 2021, while the worst is surely behind them, it has also brought out the best in them.

For those sitting the exams, I want to reassure them that every effort has been taken to ensure that the exam centres remain a safe but also as familiar as possible an environment.

The operation of the Leaving Certificate examinations does not change the measures that schools need to take in preventing and controlling Covid-19.

Nor does it change the response of schools to dealing with an outbreak within the school. School leaders will continue to act calmly, responsibly and in accordance with the directions they are given by the Department of Public Health. The State Examinations Commission has worked closely with Public Health and schools have been provided with detailed guidance about running the examinations safely.

These include procedures to follow in preventing and controlling Covid-19 and otherwise ensuring that the examinations are as safe as they can possibly be for students, superintendents and school staff.

These conditions will mirror those that have been used universally throughout our schools for the past number of months. For a small number of students, taking the exams will not be possible due to the presence of the Covid-19 virus.

I would wish that this were not the case, but the Covid challenge still remains. Accredited Grades will be provided to all students who cannot sit a written paper.

It has been a remarkably difficult year for the class of 2021, but they have shown huge resilience, strength and determination to get to this point.

The study and hard work is now complete and I have every faith and confidence that this final exam hurdle will be cleared with the same spirit and endeavour that has brought the Leaving Certificate class of 2021 to the end of their secondary school journey.

Last week, I announced that the results for this year’s class will be issued on September 3. This is the date proposed by the State Examinations Commission and it is their expert view that this is the time required to facilitate two processes run simultaneously and also make the necessary arrangements to put in place the full range of quality assurance checks required.

UCAS applicants will have until September 8 to accept any conditional offers they will have received from UK colleges, following on from receiving their Leaving Certificate results.

Officials in my department and the Department of Further and Higher Education have already begun to engage with the representative bodies of UK universities and in other jurisdictions which are popular with Irish students, such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Poland and Hungary, to ensure a smooth transition for Irish students.

It is important to note that sixth-year students make history this year, marking their end of second-level education with a choice of both Accredited Grades and a written exam.

Over the past 18 months, they have endured and triumphed, and have done so with no small amount of dignity and courage.

May the months and years ahead be filled with opportunity, success and contentment for each one of them.


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