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File photo of Leaving Cert exams in Belvedere College, Dublin.

As it happened: Minister announces Leaving Cert exams cancelled, all students to receive 'calculated grades'

Speculation that the exams would be cancelled has been growing since reports last night.
  • Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced that the Leaving Certificate has been cancelled, with all students set to receive ‘calculated grades’. 
  • This follows a meeting of Cabinet, in which the issue was discussed. 
  • McHugh said that the decision was made following “compelling advice”.
  • This afternoon, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged that there was “no perfect solution”.
  • Meetings were held in recent days by the Department of Education and Skills with a range of stakeholders, including representatives of students, parents, teachers, the State Examinations Commission, the National Educational Psychological Service and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.

Hi, Dominic McGrath here. I’ll be with you for the afternoon as Minister for Education Joe McHugh makes an announcement about the fate of the Leaving Cert amid much speculation that it will be cancelled. 

This morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar confirmed that a proposal would be brought forward to Cabinet relating to the Leaving Cert exams by Minister for Education Joe McHugh. 

Speaking to Newstalk’s The Pat Kenny Show, Varadkar said McHugh will issue a statement on this decision this afternoon. 

“So much uncertainty has been created by this pandemic and we want to be able to give [students] the certainty that they will be able to start college or an apprenticeship or whatever they decide to do in October, in Autumn of this year,” Varadkar said. 

There’s been somewhat feverish speculation about the cancellation of the Leaving Cert exams since reports emerged last night.   

You can read the full piece here

There have been days and weeks of questions, worries and concerns about how exactly the Leaving Certificate would be facilitated in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It was earlier this month that Fianna Fáil called for the cancellation of the exams, asking the government to work on “fair alternatives” to the test. 

In recent days, pressure has only grown. A survey by the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union suggested that the majority of students favoured cancelling the exams, while the issue has dominated the airwaves in the last week. 

We could be waiting a while it seems…

No matter what time the announcement is made, we’ll be bringing you all the latest details and insights. Our reporter Gráinne Ní Aodha is down at the press briefing now, waiting on Joe McHugh to arrive. 

Opposition politicians have already been responding to reports that the Leaving Cert will be cancelled.

Labour Party whip Duncan Smith has written to the Business Committee today seeking an urgent early sitting of the Dáil next week on Tuesday so the Minister for Education can take questions on the Leaving Cert as he isn’t due in the Dáil until late Thursday afternoon – nearly a week on from today. 

016 NO FEE Gov Brief The eyes of thousands of Leaving Cert students are on Minister for Education Joe McHugh. Leon Farrell / Leon Farrell / /

Confirmed: The Leaving Cert exams have been cancelled, Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced.

The government has decided that all students will be offered the option of accepting ‘calculated grades’ or sitting the Leaving Certificate at a later date.

Joe McHugh is speaking now, confirming that – in a historic decision – the Leaving Certificate has been cancelled.

“These are exceptional times,” McHugh says. “But the interests of the students must come first.”

We’ll bring you all the details of the announcement imminently. 

Here’s the latest from the Minister for Education Joe McHugh. 

Here’s how the plan for calculated grades will work:

  • The government says that “teachers will be asked to provide a professional judgement of each student’s attainment which will be subjected to a rigorous in-school alignment process to ensure fairness”. 
  • School principals will approve the estimated scores and the ranking of each student. 
  • The government will establish a special unit in the Department of Education and Skills to process this data provided by each school. 
  • The Department will then finalise the grades for each student, which will then be issued to students “as close as possible to the traditional date”. 
  • Crucially, students will “retain the right to appeal”. Students can also sit the 2o2o Leaving Certificate at a later date when it is “deemed safe for state examinations to be held”. 

“Let’s call a spade a spade, I had massive reservations about this,” says Joe McHugh in response to questions from reporters. 

The Department of Education is specifically not saying predicted grades. Instead, it’s using the term “national standardisation”

According to the department, this means “marks and rankings submitted by schools will be examined and may be adjusted using statistical methods to ensure a common national standard is applied”. 

“It’s not a teacher grade,” says McHugh. 

Nonetheless, teachers will play a key role in replacing the sit-down exams.

In the process, teachers will be asked to provide their estimate of the percentage mark for each candidate in each specific subject. Teachers will also provide a “class rank order” – a list of all the candidates in a class in order of the predicted levels of achievement of each candidate. 

So when will students get their results? There isn’t any official date, it seems – but McHugh says he wants it as close as possible to the traditional date. 

Here’s some reaction. Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has strongly criticised some details of the announcement. 

He seems to be taking issue with the statistical standardisation process, which “will compare the school’s profile of achievement at Leaving Certificate over the past three years to the national standards, to build up a picture of school performance”. 

The government has published more details here on how exactly the new system will run, including what’s involved in statistical standardisation. 

The government’s website indicates that the CAO must go on. 

“Students’ calculated grades will be transferred directly to the CAO, in the same way that examination results usually are. The CAO timelines will run as close as possible to normal to allow for students to take up offers and to transition to third level, further education or work etc,” it states here

6704 NO FEE Leaving Cert Exams Minister for Education Joe McHugh at the briefing this afternoon. Leon Farrell / Leon Farrell / /

What does it mean for going to college and other third-level institutions?

We’re likely to know more in the coming days – there is no doubt university staff were watching today’s announcement closely. 

According to the government, there aren’t any specifics on that yet but there are hopes it will be late September of early October. 

So, unfortunately, things aren’t entirely clear. 

I’d try and bring you some more reaction from actual Leaving Cert students, but I imagine most of them are on things like TikTok, not Twitter. 

But, among those whose Leaving Cert is but a distant memory, plenty of the details are attracting attention. 

The issue of school standardisation is likely to cause plenty of discussion in the coming days about whether it penalises students based on their school’s previous overall performance. 

Here’s more details from the government’s guidance document on calculated grades: 

The teachers’ estimated marks from each school will be adjusted to bring them into line with the expected distribution for the school. Each school’s expected distributions will be arrived at from the statistical analysis of all the historic SEC datasets. These data sets allow the production of good calculations of the distributions of marks to be expected for each school and nationally.

The press conference has finished, but there are a few other outstanding issues. 

On the subject of appeals, the government document says that if candidates remain unhappy after appealing the calculated grade, they can then have the opportunity to sit a normal Leaving Certificate at a later date. 

But this does suggest that any student who decides to sit a later Leaving Certificate will not be heading to college in the autumn. 


My colleague Michelle Hennessy has written a comprehensive guide to what this all means. 

Have a read here

Put simply, it’s like nothing the Irish education system has ever seen – so expect plenty more questions (and hopefully) answers in the coming weeks. 


Every year, thousands of Irish students travel to study in the UK and Europe. Before Covid-19, Brexit was the begin concern – now, there are other reasons to possibly stay at home. 

Close to 2,000 students travel to the UK and Europe every year. 

For students who might still have been hoping to leave Ireland for college, what does this all mean?

The current advice doesn’t have all the answers. The government website states:

The Department has been in contact with counterparts in the UK and across the EU to explain the position regarding the Leaving Certificate. Other countries are being asked for as much flexibility as possible for our students. These contacts will continue over the coming weeks. This is also a common challenge in the UK and across the EU.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has tweeted about the Leaving Certificate announcement. He says that there was no “perfect solution”. 

I’m going to wind up this live blog now, but thanks for reading.

Keep an eye on for the latest news, reaction and analysis of what this will mean for students, schools and colleges in the weeks to come. 

45 NO FEE Education Briefing Leon Farrell / Leon Farrell / /

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