Leaving Cert history is being made as work gets under way on a process of calculating grades for 61,000 candidates in place of the traditional summer written exams.
A last-minute skirmish over the strength of a State-backed indemnity to protect teachers in the event of a legal challenge by a disgruntled student was sorted yesterday, clearing the way for all-round engagement.
Instead of final preparations for State exams in early June or continuing their studies in anticipation of a delayed start in late July/August, all candidates have to do now to be awarded Leaving Cert grades is register with an online system, opening next Tuesday.
While a student may ultimately decide not to receive calculated grades, they will be awarded in all subjects to all candidates.
Schools will ask candidates, including those doing the Leaving Cert Applied, to register on the online portal, where those who are doing the traditional Leaving Cert will also be provided with the opportunity to confirm the level at which they want to be assessed.
Candidates may choose to stay at the same level at which they originally entered for a subject or they may opt for a lower level, as often happens - particularly in maths - in the run-up to or on the day of the exam.
Over the next couple of weeks, teachers and schools will undertake the unprecedented job of providing estimated marks and class rankings for all State exam candidates. Principals will send the data to the Department of Education where it will go through a national standardisation leading to the production of calculated grades around the usual time for Leaving Cert results.
In this process of checks and balances, which will include comparison with the school's general achievement levels and the Junior Cycle performance of the current sixth years, the final grade awarded may vary from the estimate provided by the school.
The Department of Education has provided guidelines for teachers/schools on how to approach the process of estimating marks and giving each student a class ranking.
The guidance was produced after painstaking consultation with representatives of teacher unions, principals, school management bodies, parents and students in recent weeks, and came with a legal indemnity for teachers and schools.
The indemnity was understood to have been accepted by all involved, so there was surprise some hours after the publication of the guidance on Thursday when the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) announced that it fell short. The union caused further shock when it advised its members not to co-operate in the process until it received the necessary assurances.
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said the union was concerned members may be liable for up to one-third of legal costs in the event of a legal challenge.
After intensive discussions between the union, the department and legal advisers the ASTI said yesterday that it had secured full indemnity and cleared the way for co-operation by its members
The union said it had received the "necessary clear assurances and clarifications" that allow for teachers to proceed with this work without fear of negative financial consequences.
Crucially, it added, the department had "given an undertaking that in all cases where the indemnity applies, the Chief State Solicitor's Office will take over the running of the litigation".
The other post-primary teachers' union, the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), accepted the legal indemnity and while it also sought certain clarifications, it was happy for its members to start engaging with the calculated grades process yesterday.
The ASTI's turn-about now means that all teachers can get on with the task.