Minister for Education Joe McHugh is expected to recommend that Leaving Certificate exams be cancelled this year, according to government sources.
A memo is reportedly to be presented to Cabinet on Friday morning that outlines potential alternatives to the exams, including the awarding of grades based on classwork.
The draft plan would see schools award grades to students determined by a number of factors, including class rankings and previous performance in assessments, in place of the exams, which had previously been postponed from June to the end of July.
On Thursday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that it would be possible to hold the exams while following restrictions responding to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland, but that it would “not be the Leaving Certificate as we know it”.
“If it is cancelled we must make sure that we can put in place an alternative which would be fair, which is extremely difficult,” he continued.
A survey of 23,000 Leaving Certificate students found that eight in 10 wanted the exams to be cancelled, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU).
ISSU President Ciara Fanning said that the union was “particularly concerned about the mental health and anxiety issues brought to our attention by students in overwhelming numbers”.
Sinn Féin spokesperson for education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire issued a statement today, outlining: “It is my view that the Leaving Cert cannot now go ahead so the Minister needs to set out how the Leaving Cert will be awarded and how college admissions will be managed; including for students with special needs.”
Thomas Byrne, Fianna Fáil spokesperson for education, wrote on social media this evening that he welcomed the expected decision to cancel the exams, stating: “Public health must come before tradition. The voices of our youth must be heard. And the Dept must explain exactly how the new system will fairly work.”
The Department of Education initially announced on April 10 that Junior Certificate exams would be replaced by school-based assessments, while the Leaving Certificate would be rescheduled to late July and early August.
With a delayed Leaving Certificate, prospective first year higher education students would have seen a delayed entry date to the start of their courses, although the admissions process, operated by the Central Applications Office (CAO), was expected to operate “as closely as possible” to the standard timeframe for course offers.
Following the April announcement, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said: “The third level institutions look forward to welcoming this year’s Leaving Certificate students who have applied to enter their courses. I appreciate the particular challenges these students have had to face and I welcome the flexible approach indicated by the sector to enabling these students to take up a place in the year ahead.”
A revised exam timetable was due to be released in early June, while arrangements for exam centres, social distancing and other measures had also been due to be determined by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) in June to comply with Covid-19 restrictions.
In April, McHugh explained that “asking Leaving Certificate students and their families to refocus their attention from June to August is not something we do lightly”, but said that rescheduling the exams represented 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”.
Primary and secondary schools, along with universities, have been shut since 6pm on March 12 due to the outbreak of Covid-19 in Ireland.