Education Minister Norma Foley has announced a two-track approach to the Leaving Cert.
It will involve exams and a second, non-exam process, the details of which have to be worked out.
Talks are set to start this weekend and crucially for the minister, she has bought herself and the Government time to work through a solution with all involved.
The announcement was made after a meeting of the State Exams Advisory Group, which includes representatives of teacher unions, principals, students, parents and other education partners .
Ms Foley announced a “new phase” in the planning for the exams which will involve intensive one-to-one discussions with the various, which are starting immediately.
The process will explore options for both the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert.
“The Minister aims to provide clear plans and information to students as quickly as possible on how the examinations will be held and details of the corresponding measure to be offered to students,” a spokesperson for the Department of Education said.
Ms Foley said they would be “actively planning both to hold the Leaving Certificate exams”, and “to put in place a corresponding measure that can also be offered to students.”.
She said the discussions in the exams group had been hugely helpful in considering the many issues and challenges involved.
“Examinations need to be available to students. Given the impact on learning for students both last year and this year, there is also a need to explore a parallel approach which can be offered to students.
“Any corresponding measure should have the confidence of the education partners. Last year a process was put in place that involved schools generating estimated marks and the application of a national standardisation process. This allowed students to progress.
“Any corresponding measure this year would need to incorporate new features. In particular, the State Examinations Commission will need to be given the necessary legal powers to run the process.
“It will also need to provide more comprehensively for students studying outside school. Recognition of the skills and competences associated with orals, practicals and coursework should also form a clearer part of any such measure.
“Due to the nature of the pandemic, and the need to always have regard to public health advice, in addition to planning actively to hold the Leaving Certificate examinations, it is necessary to have in place a parallel measure that can also be offered to students.
“I am committed to working with all the education partners to achieve this.”
While the details of what Ms Foley describes as a the “corresponding measure” had to be worked out, she said it would need to involve:
She said: “There is no perfect answer to what is a very challenging situation. The situation is not identical to last year and so any solutions that we consider need to be appropriate for this year’s cohort.
“My commitment to students and their families is that we will give as much further certainty as we can, as early as we can.
“We will ensure that we find ways that enable students to progress.”
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said it was committed to “working constructively with all stakeholders to ensure that Leaving Certificate 2021 goes ahead as normally as possible and that alternative plans, should they be necessary, will be put in place. “
The Teachers Union of Ireland (TUI) also said it would participate constructively.
The TUI said it would insist on a “meaningful engagement that recognises the professional views and legitimate concerns of our members, including a fundamental concern to protect the standards and reputation of national awards to students.”
The union added that it was keenly aware of the need for clarity in relation to State exams this year and the anxiety currently being experienced by all in school communities.