Pressure is growing on Education Minster Norma Foley to consider an alternative to the traditional Leaving Cert.
Several TDs raised the issue with the minister in the Dáil yesterday, with some supp- orting a return to calculated grades this year or a "hybrid model", and all seeking an early decision on the fate of the exams.
A survey of more than 20,000 members of the Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU) is expected to show an appetite for change from normal arrangements.
The findings are due to be released over the weekend, but ISSU president Reuban Murray last night gave a clear indication of the mood.
He said up to now the conversation had been around how the exams were going to happen, but it had to move to a place where the discussions were not solely focusing on that.
Against a groundswell for an alternative to be found, teacher unions have reiterated their support for the trad- itional exams.
The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said "the highly trusted, externally-marked Leaving Certificate must take place in 2021".
It added: "Our experience of calculated grades last year has left the union in no doubt that the customary state examinations are more reliable and enjoy significantly greater trust among the public at large and, critically, among stud-ents and teachers."
Earlier, the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) president Ann Piggott said the Leaving Cert exams should run as normal in June.
She was responding to a call from Fianna Fáil senator Timmy Dooley, who said the "best worst option" would be the cancellation of Leaving Cert 2021 because the virus made it highly unlikely that students would enjoy the same face-to-face teaching time that would usually take place between now and June.
More attention turned to the Leaving Cert after a breakthrough that may see pupils with special needs back in school from next Thursday in the first phase of a post-Christmas return.
After a meeting between Ms Foley, junior minister for special education Josepha Madigan and the education partners, the ministers said they had a "shared ambition" for a reopening of special schools and special classes in primary schools on January 21.
It may be the following week in post-primary schools.
Schools may also bring back children with special needs who do not participate in special classes and other vulner- able children.
Ms Foley said she also "very much" hoped that the ongoing negotiations would set out a pathway for the return of all children at all levels of schooling at the start of February.
This would be subject to public health advice.