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Leaving Cert: Second sitting of exams is not usual, according to SEC research


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Ireland’s second sitting of the Leaving Cert is unusual by international standards, new research has found.

It raises the question as to whether the practice will continue in the long term, particularly as wider senor cycle reforms are introduced.

In other countries that offer students another chance to achieve a result in the same year it is more usual for the grade to be calculated.

Although the numbers doing the second sitting of the Leaving Cert – in July – are relatively small, it is cited as a factor in the delays in issuing results in recent years.

Education Minister Norma Foley has indicated that she favours giving students every opportunity to achieve their grades. 

The second-chance exams were introduced in 2019 on a pilot basis for students who suffered a bereavement. The practice extended to cover serious accident, injury or illness at the time of the exam, and, last year, those who could not attend because of Covid-19 restrictions.

In 2022  397 candidates availed of the concession, most (270) because of Covid, with 43 citing bereavement and 84 a serious illness. It generated 1,152 papers to be corrected.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has kept the matter under review and commissioned research on international practice.

Professor Damian Murchan and Dr Evgenia Likhovtseva of Trinity College Dublin’s School of Education looked at 19 education/exam systems around the world.

They found differences in how they address the needs of students who have difficulty in presenting for an exam at the scheduled time.

Most sought to help students avoid having to retake a missed exam the following year, according to A Review of Arrangements Internationally to Accommodate Examinees who Are Bereaved or Ill at the Time of Scheduled Second Level Leaving Certificate Examinations

Of those that provide some type of alternative arrangements, some form of adjusted or derived graded was the most common approach.

“This review identified very few systems, similar in terms of the structure and particularly the purpose/function of the Leaving Certificate, that provided supplemental exams for student a timeframe that facilitated entry to higher education in the same year,” it found.

While some countries allow students to retake the exam, it does not necessarily guarantee results that will allow for enrolment in higher education in the same year.

In the UK, Singapore, Hong Kong and parts of Australia different process are used to generate a grade to replace the missing grade.

Some use statistical algorithms if they can draw on existing test data, others use evidence of student learning requested from the school.

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