Education Minister Joe McHugh is set to give his blessing to schools to go ahead with their own Junior Cycle exams in the coming weeks, rather than obliging students to wait until the autumn.
But his officials are working on guidance to ensure a certain level of uniformity among schools that opt for this approach, including ensuring they have agreed assessment policies.
The Junior Cycle exams issue was among the matters discussed at a meeting yesterday between the Department of Education and education stakeholders, including school managers, teacher unions and parent representatives.
Afterwards, Mr McHugh said: "The best way to address this issue is to allow the group have further discussions, in a spirit of partnership in the best interests of this year's Junior Cycle students.
"I would urge schools to await the conclusion of these discussions with the education partners before taking any decisions regarding assessment arrangements for their Junior Cycle students."
As yesterday's meeting was taking place, a second post-primary school, Presentation Secondary School, Kilkenny, said it was setting its own assessments for its 140 third-year pupils to take next month, rather than having the prospect of autumn exams hanging over them in the summer months.
Schools are also concerned that after all the current disruption, along with the possibility of a delayed return in September, the last thing they need is to start the year with exams.
Earlier this month, as part of the response to difficulties presented by Covid-19, the minister announced the cancellation of Junior Cycle June exams and their replacement with school-based assessments in the autumn.
While the State Examinations Commission (SEC) would set the autumn papers, the Department of Education says there will be no State certification this year, which has led principals to question their value.
Both Shane Hallahan, principal of Presentation Secondary, Kilkenny, and Alan Mongey, principal of Coláiste Bhaile Chláir, Co Galway, the other school to announce that it was going ahead with Junior Cycle exams in coming weeks, have assured their pupils that if they are not happy with grades awarded by teachers, they can sit SEC papers in the autumn.
Yesterday's Department of Education meeting also discussed the practical arrangements for project work, coursework and practical exams for the Leaving Cert and the development of a range of supports for students' wellbeing.
Meanwhile, thousands of students are to get free laptops in a move to help bridge the digital divide while schools are closed. Mr McHugh announced a €10m fund targeted at disadvantaged pupils in both primary and post-primary schools.
Most of the focus is on Leaving Cert students, with €7m of the money going to post-primary schools and priority to be given to supporting the sixth-year exam candidates.
One estimate suggests that up to 10,000 of the 61,000 Leaving Cert students nationwide may be in need of a device to support their learning at home. Students may have mobile phones, but they do not lend themselves to teaching and learning in the same way as a laptop or tablet.
Schools in the Department of Education's Deis scheme for disadvantaged communities will get additional funding. A typical big post-primary school, with a minimum of 750 pupils, will get a grant of €17,000, while a Deis school of the same size will receive €19,000. Fee-charging schools will not receive funding.
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