The Leaving Cert exams are off until the late July or August because of Covid-19, Education Minister Joe McHugh announced today.
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.
Mr McHugh also said that the schools will be closed until further notice.
The exceptional arrangements reflect exceptional times and have been decided on foot of updated advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), which is monitoring the progress of the deadly coronavirus within the population.
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.
Today’s statement brings to an end the uncertainty facing more than 120,000 Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle candidates which was adding to the usual pre-exam stress levels.
Mr McHugh said he hoped it helped to alleviate some stress being experienced by students and their families at this time.
However, he acknowledged that 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.”
But 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.”
As part of the wider public health social distancing and movement restriction measures, schools are also to remain closed until further notice. They have been closed since March 12, and, to date, students have lost 15 classroom tuition days, although online teaching and learning is widespread.
The postponement of the Leaving Cert has implications for the college entry 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.
Today’s decision also means that practical exams for Leaving Cert students, which were due to have been held in May, will also be rescheduled for late July/early August.
The new Leaving Cert exam timetable will be confirmed in early June and it is also the intention to allow at least two weeks of class time, in school, before the exams begin.
That will involve teachers being asked to make themselves available to return to school for at least two weeks in July, and the indications are that such a request would be generally well received.
The Minister thanked teachers and schools for the “great work being done to connect with students and to keep them learning and said they wanted to “provide students and teachers with an opportunity to build on that.”
Students with special educational needs will be fully supported in sitting the rescheduled Leaving Cert examinations in line with the reasonable accommodations as already arranged for them, he said.
And the Department of Education has asked the Higher Education Authority and the higher education sector to explore ways of assisting access to higher education for students from under-represented groups.
Mr McHugh said all the decisions being taken in relation to rescheduling exams were based on current public health advice and the “welfare of students and that of their families is front and centre in all decision making.”
The minister said the 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. He thanked the SEC for its efforts to put in place the revised arrangements.
As part of the changes to the Junior Cycle, discussions will take place with teacher unions and school management to allow these exams, linked Classroom-Based Assessments, Assessment Tasks and project work to be completed as school-based assessments early in the next school year.
Minister McHugh acknowledged the positive engagement he has had with unions, management bodies, the further education and training and higher education sectors on all of the issues.
“I am grateful for the co-operation shown by all concerned, in what is a very challenging situation for our young people, their families and teachers. I am confident we can continue to work together in a supportive spirit to help secure the best outcomes for students,” the Minister said.