Some students will not be able to sit the Leaving Cert because of Covid, but there is no indication of a surge in cases among this group in recent days, according to public health sources.
Education Minister Norma Foley believes that sitting exams will not be possible for “a small number of students” for Covid-related reasons.
The Department of Public Health Mid-West confirmed on Friday that it was aware of a small number of candidates in Limerick who would miss exams after a jump in infections in the area.
Strict public health measures will be in place in 780 schools and other venues where the Leaving Cert gets underway today. Candidates with Covid, or ‘close contacts’ will not be admitted.
Socially distanced exam halls will have desks two metres apart and widespread use of classrooms to cater for all students safely.
At Pobalscoil Neasáin, Baldoyle, Dublin, principal Pat McKenna said the gym hall used as the main exam centre was down to about 40pc of normal capacity for an exam.
Across schools and other venues, there will be 4,900 exam centres, about the same as when Junior Cycle exams take place, but their cancellation has allowed the space for the conduct of the Leaving Cert under prevailing public health rules.
Good wishes have poured in for the candidates.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “it has been very difficult, but we have come through this far. We wish them the very best”.
In a reference to the accredited grades available to students who will miss an exam because of Covid, he said if they have symptoms they don’t need to attend – “they have the backup”. State Examinations Commission chairperson Pat Burke, said Covid had brought hardship and pain to so many families this year and Leaving Cert students had also endured additional stresses as a result.
“We hope that the adjustments to the examinations and the system of Accredited Grades support our students and allow them to move on with their lives.
“We will do our utmost to deliver the examinations and the Accredited Grades as fairly and smoothly as possible in what continues to be challenging times.”
National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals director Clive Byrne said the class of 2021 “will go down in the history books as one which faced and overcame unprecedented challenges”.
“School leaders, teachers, their families and their peers are immensely proud of their achievements thus far and we wish them every success in their exams and all their future endeavours.”
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) president Martin Marjoram said the candidates had “worked unbelievably hard in circumstances that would have been unimaginable 18 months ago”.
Looking ahead to next year, he reiterated the TUI call for students sitting the Leaving Cert in 2022 to be provided with greater choice in the written exams to compensate for disruption to learning caused by the pandemic.
In her good luck message, Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland president Ann Piggott said the students had shown “tremendous resilience”.
She said teachers had worried about the level of stress experienced by students, adding that the calculated grades/accredited grades processes also presented very difficult circumstances for teachers.