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Late Leaving Cert may delay the start of next school year

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Hopeful: Education Minister Joe McHugh

Hopeful: Education Minister Joe McHugh

Hopeful: Education Minister Joe McHugh

The opening of the new school year in second-level schools may be disrupted by a decision to postpone the start of the Leaving Cert to late July/August.

It will depend on the final timetable for the rescheduled exams and how long it takes to grade the papers of the 61,000 candidates, in which working teachers are heavily involved.

A Department of Education spokesperson confirmed it is only when the new exam schedule is set in June "will it be possible to determine if there will be any impact for the start of the new school year".

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) will seek to boost examiner numbers by using Junior Cycle examiners as well as recruiting further examiners in a bid to make the marking process as efficient as possible.

Education Minister Joe McHugh's announcement of the postponement of the Leaving Cert ends weeks of uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 public health emergency, which closed schools on March 12. Schools will remain shut until further notice.

The traditional Junior Cycle written exams are also cancelled, and will be replaced by school-based exams and assessments early in the next school year.

The exceptional arrangements have been decided on foot of updated advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET).

Even as he announced the postponement of the Leaving Cert, Mr McHugh said plans being put in place for the exams to begin in the last week of July or early August were subject to public health advice.

Final arrangements for the exams, the exam centres, social distancing and other measures will be determined by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) on foot of public health advice in June.

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There was a general welcome for the announcement, although the Irish Second-Level Students' Union (ISSU) said while it offered some clarity, it left questions unanswered.

The ISSU also expressed concern the decision would have on students' mental health and well-being and said no additional supports had been announced to help exam candidates navigate through the extension.

Mr McHugh said the welfare of students and that of their families was "front and centre in all decision making".

He said he hoped it helped to alleviate some stress, although he acknowledged asking Leaving Cert students and their families to refocus their attention from June to August "is not something we do lightly. I know it will not be easy".

He believed it was "the fairest way of assessing students and giving them certification of achievement in school and a pathway to higher and further education and training, apprenticeship or work".

Students with special educational needs will be fully supported in sitting the rescheduled exams in line with the reasonable accommodations as already arranged for them, he said.

The postponement has implications for the CAO process, but the intention is that it will operate as closely as possible to the usual timeframe for offers, with a delayed start for first years.

Leaving Cert practical exams, due to have been held in May, will also be rescheduled for late July/early August.

It is the intention to allow at least two weeks of class time, in school, before the exams begin, which will involve teachers being asked to make themselves available to return to school in July.

The two second-level teacher unions, the ASTI and the TUI, said they fully understood the decision to defer the State exams.

They said they remained committed to serving the best interests of students.

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