Leaving Cert and Junior Cert exams will be held this year, Foley confirms

Minister for Education Norma Foley has said this year’s Leaving Certificate will be held as exams only and ruled out a hybrid approach to the State exams.

The structure of the Leaving Cert will be “radically different”, she said, while the Junior Cert exams will run for the first since 2019.

The move came despite repeated calls from students and the Opposition for another hybrid Leaving Cert, which includes written exams and accredited grades, on the basis that many students have experienced significant disruption to their studies due to the pandemic.

Speaking after Tuesday morning’s Cabinet meeting, however, Ms Foley said the exams will be “tailor-made” in recognition of the challenges faced by students. There will more question options available and less material for students to cover.

“The exams will be structured in a familiar way, but with more choice and a reduction in the number of questions to be answered. This will not be the traditional Leaving Certificate exam,” she said.

“For example, in maths students would have 10 questions to answer, now they will have six . . . I want to make clear that the alterations on the exams extend beyond the papers, they extend into the oral, the practical and coursework,” the Minister added.

“Students also raised concerns over the potential disadvantage the class of 2022 would face when compared to the class of 2021 in terms of grade inflation.

“To alleviate this concern, I have asked the SEC [State Examinations Commission] to put in place measures to ensure that the overall set of results in the aggregate for this year will be no lower than last year,” said Ms Foley.

Details of all the changes to the examinations will be sent to schools next week.

‘Alternative exams’

Ms Foley said an “alternative set of Leaving Certificate examinations” will operate this year, limited to certain students, “such as those who experience a close family bereavement, Covid-19 illness and certain other categories of serious illness during the first examination period. There will be strict eligibility criteria applying to this contingency sitting.”

Changes to the junior-cycle examinations include a reduction in the number of classroom-based assessments to be completed, the removal of the requirement to complete assessment tasks and adjustments to the requirements in coursework and practical performance tests. These adjustments provide for more teaching time in schools, Ms Foley said.

The timetable for the written exams – both junior and senior cycle – in June will be published by the SEC in the coming days.

Earlier, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said it was important “the integrity of the Leaving Cert is protected”.

Mr Coveney said he understood it had been “incredibly stressful for students” but said the problem with the hybrid model was that “one in four students doing their Leaving Cert this year didn’t do their Junior Cert because of Covid”.

‘Desperate decision’

Opposition parties said they were opposed to any move that would rule out a hybrid option. Sinn Féin education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire called the decision to proceed with written exams “desperate”.

“Absolutely gutted for Leaving Cert students,” he tweeted. “The Minister has refused to listen to students and failed to understand the level of disruption. Tradition should not trump sense or fairness.”

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, who has been campaigning for the hybrid model, said he was “devastated” for students.

In a post on Twitter, he said: “This is a betrayal by a [department] with no imagination, welded to tradition having convinced themselves that all is fine.” – Additional reporting PA

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