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Latest plan for Leaving Cert will see exams start on July 29th, minister says

Minister for Education Joe McHugh confirmed that the State exam would begin on Wednesday 29 July.
Apr 23rd 2020, 7:40 PM 30,665 37

MINISTER FOR EDUCATION Joe McHugh has said in the Dáil that the Leaving Cert will begin on Wednesday 29 July.

He caveated this by saying that the first week in June would be vital in telling how the Leaving Cert would be implemented, something he had repeated in an Instagram Live on Tuesday night. 

In that interview, McHugh had hinted that 29th July would be the most likely date the Leaving Cert would begin, adding that they were sticking to the traditional model of beginning on a Wednesday, so that students aren’t facing into five exams in their first week.

Speaking in the Dáil today, where just a handful of TDs were present in order to comply with social distancing measures, McHugh said that an exam timetable would be confirmed in the first week of June.

McHugh also said that he was waiving the €116 fee that needed to be paid to sit the Leaving Certificate until after the exams.

Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Education Thomas Byrne said the €109 Junior Certificate exam fee must be refunded to any student who paid it before 30 April deadline.

The minister also emphasised that he had been liaising with medical experts about what was best to do in relation to the Leaving Cert: including speaking to Dr Tony Holohan, Professor Philip Nolan, and the World Health Organization’s Dr Mike Ryan.

A number of TDs including the Social Democrats’ Gary Gannon and Socialist Party TD Mick Barry had called on the Minister to cancel the Leaving Cert entirely.

TD Michael Collins raised concerns about Leaving Cert students not having the summer to work and save money before the college year.

McHugh said that although there were some students who were calling for the Leaving Cert to be cancelled, he said that many more didn’t want that to happen, as they had put the work in to sit the State exams in June.

On practical work, McHugh said that “there’s a lot of working out to be done there”.

“With everything we do, there’s going to be a risk. We’re going through a period with no vaccine,” he said. “We’re looking at all contingencies as well.”

Student testimonies

Before McHugh’s announcement in the Dáil this evening, TheJournal.ie spoke to Leaving Cert students to hear how they are feeling about the postponement of their exams.

18-year-old Jakub Kostanski from Co Galway said that despite the date of 29 July being provided by McHugh, there is still a lot of confusion surrounding plans for the exams. 

“It’s not that we’re not happy about the Leaving Cert … I don’t know, there’s a whole lot of confusion still going on,” he said. 

Wicklow native Molly Gordon Boles (18) told TheJournal.ie that while “it’s great to get a bit more clarity” on the situation, there is “still a lot of uncertainty”. 

“We don’t have a timetable, we don’t know how the structure of it will work, we don’t know how it will work sitting the exam,” she said. 

17-year-old Maisie McMaster from Co Mayo said that the uncertainty has left her finding it “very hard to focus”. 

“Yes, [the postponement] would be a relief to some people but my main concern isn’t really the whole ‘This is when it’s starting’, my view on it is I’ve gotten myself through this thinking I’ll be finished then and I can take a little time to relax. Then, I can go off and worry about college,” McMaster said. 

“Now … I’m finding it very hard to focus at all because I know that I won’t have a break afterwards,” she said. 

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The first week in June

Reacting to suggestions made by McHugh that a final decision would be made on the Leaving Cert in the first week of June, Kostanski said he believes June is “cutting it too short”. 

“They need to start making firm decisions on what’s going on because the Leaving Cert students are literally falling into a big hole at the moment because we’re all stressed with trying to study in the circumstances we’re in,” he said. 

Gordon Boles added: 

I think it’s causing excess stress and anxiety for students. The Leaving Cert is already known as the hardest year of your school career. On top of that, we have the stress of the pandemic.

When asked how she is coping mentally with the current situation, she said that she has “a lot of support at home but it definitely has added a bit of stress and pressure”. 

McMaster said: “It’s very hard to get used to. The uncertainty now of when I actually will be finished is taking a toll on me.” 

Meanwhile, Gordon Boles said that she feels the delay of the examinations won’t have a negative impact on her grades, but worries that may not be the case for all students. 

“I know the Minister pledged that he was going to give €10 million to give technology to students who may not necessarily have access to it, but it’s not really counting those who don’t have broadband,” she said. 

“There are a lot of people in rural parts of the country who can’t even upload a bit of work. I can’t see how that’s fair, how I’m getting to talk to my teachers when there are students in a county, say an hour away from me, who can’t do the same.” 

- with reporting from Hayley Halpin 

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