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Fresh exam uncertainty as 'schools could shut until May'

Hopes that June test will go ahead


Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Education Minister Joe McHugh. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

There is fresh uncertainty over the viability of written State exams this summer after the Taoiseach warned schools could now be shut until May.

Students were assured it is too early to make any final decision, although Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle oral and practical exams have already been cancelled.

The move was welcomed by principals for the certainty it offers students at what is an already pressurised time.

Candidates entered for the affected subjects will be awarded full marks for these elements of their exams, worth between 20pc and 50pc of the total.

Education Minister Joe McHugh has yet to make a decision about the written exams in June.

But last night Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has told his Fine Gael colleagues that schools could be closed until May.

During a teleconference call with his parliamentary party, Mr Varadkar said he expected school closures to extend beyond March 29.

Fine Gael parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said the Taoiseach told TDs the restrictions on schools opening could be extended into April or May.

"The Fine Gael president said there will be big increases in positive cases over coming days with increased testing taking place across the country," he said.

"He said all of Government was pulling together on fighting the virus. He said the benefits of social distancing may not be seen for five to 10 days."

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Earlier, speaking about the decision to call off oral and practical exams, Education Minister Joe McHugh described it as the fairest approach in the current circumstances.

It means that students cannot be awarded a lower mark than they would have achieved in the test, although candidates not sitting those subjects may feel at a disadvantage.

The big focus is on what happens to the written exams in June, and Mr McHugh said they were still working on the basis that they would go ahead.

However he said there were "a lot of unknowns, a lot of assumptions about next week, never mind May or June".

He said the Department of Education would continue to work with the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to monitor the Covid-19 situation in terms of its potential impact on the other later scheduled components of the State exams.

"We will continue to respond at the right time and in the right way, with the impact on our students at the forefront of our minds," he said.

He added that the Government was hugely grateful for the effort, commitment and energy that students and teachers were putting in to continue education in difficult circumstances.

"I urge you all to keep up the momentum and focus on preparing for the exams," he said.

There was significant support for the move to cancel orals and practicals, with National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) director Clive Byrne saying the announcement would come as a relief to students and offer them clarity in the weeks ahead.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) said while there were no perfect solutions to the current challenges and any approach would have its drawbacks, the announcement provided some much-needed clarity to students.

The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said it would allay the anxiety felt by students around the uncertainty of the timing of the orals and practicals.

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