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D-Day for some 55,000 students as Leaving Certificate exams get under way

While some students have opted for Accredited Grades, thousands will sit their exams over the coming weeks.

Covid-19 signage lining the corridors in St Joseph's Secondary School last August
Covid-19 signage lining the corridors in St Joseph's Secondary School last August

IT’S D-DAY for some 55,000 students around the country today as the Leaving Certificate examinations get underway. 

This year, students had a choice of whether to sit an exam in each subject or receive a calculated grade, to be known this year as an SEC-Accredited Grade.

Some 61,500 candidates are entered for this year’s Leaving Certificate, between both written examinations and Accredited Grades. 

The majority of candidates have confirmed their intention to sit exams this year, with some 55,000 students set to begin their Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied today.

The exams will run until Tuesday 29 June for the Leaving Cert and Thursday 17 June for the Leaving Cert Applied. 

Accredited Grades

In light of Covid-19, the State Examinations Commission is this year running the system of examinations and Accredited Grades, and issuing candidates with a single set of provisional results. 

Those who have sat the exams only will be provided with examination results, those who have opted for Accredited Grades only will be provided with such, and those who have opted for both will be provided with the better result between the two processes. 

Candidates confirmed their Leaving Certificate choices of examinations, Accredited Grades, or both on a subject by subject basis in early May.

The majority of candidates are opting to sit at least one examination and most are opting for both examinations and Accredited Grades.

The proportion of candidates indicating their intention to sit examinations varies from subject to subject; from 48% of candidates in Irish to 92% of candidates in Applied Maths.

Covid-19

For those sitting the exams this year, the process will differ somewhat from previous years. 

Students, superintendents, school personnel and attendants will be required to wear face coverings at all times.

Any student who refuses or fails to wear a mask will be refused access to the examinations.

The only exception to the wearing of face coverings will apply to candidates who have been exempted on medical grounds.

Candidates will not be allowed to present for their examinations if they have been diagnosed with Covid-19, have symptoms of the virus, are a close contact of a confirmed case or have been instructed to self-isolate, quarantine or restrict their movements.

Schools have been asked, as far as is reasonably practicable, maintaining each centre as a pod for the duration of the examinations in each centre. This is to help avoid interaction with other groups.

Candidates will be assigned to the same desk in the same examination centre for the duration of their exams, other than for specific logistical reasons such as aural exams. 

While it is hoped that all candidates who want to sit the examinations will have that opportunity, it could happen that some won’t be able to do so for both Covid and non-Covid reasons. 

Accredited Grades will provide contingency for students in the event that they can’t sit the exams due to Covid-19 (whether through being a confirmed case, a close contact, having symptoms or due to a requirement to self-isolate or restrict movements), or for other reasons such as bereavement, hospitalisation or other medical emergencies. 

A number of students in Limerick are to miss their exams as a result of being a confirmed Covid case or a close contact after a spike in cases in the county. The absence of back-up papers for students who have to miss exams for these reasons has been criticised, with Sinn Féin TD Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire commenting that this situation was “entirely predictable”. 

Further details on guidance being provided to schools in relation to the Leaving Certificate this year can be read here

Speaking ahead of the exams, SEC chairperson Pat Burke said: “Covid has brought hardship and pain to so many families this year. Leaving Certificate students have also endured additional stresses. We hope that the adjustments to the examinations and the system of Accredited Grades support our students and allow them to move on with their lives.”

In relation to the arrangements for the conduct of the examinations, which have been developed in consultation with public health authorities, Burke expressed his appreciation to those involved. 

“The Commission is extremely grateful to, and wants to fulsomely acknowledge the support of, all involved in delivering the Leaving Certificate this year. This includes school principals, deputy principals, teachers, and other school staff,” he said. 

“This also, of course, includes parents and guardians, as the ultimate source of care and support for students, and the students themselves who are to be commended for their resilience throughout this difficult year,” he added. 

Speaking ahead of today, the Minister for Education Norma Foley praised the “remarkable resilience and goodwill” of the students due to sit their exams. 

Foley acknowledged the challenging year students have faced, saying they have done so with good humour.

“It’s a very big day for the class of 2021 and I would like to wish all of the students taking their Leaving Cert exams all of the best of luck,” Foley said. 

“Equally, I want to acknowledge the last number of weeks have been a very important week for all of the class of 2021. Many of those opted to have the accredited grades,” Foley said.

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“Tomorrow is another opportunity and I am very pleased to say that the vast majority of students have opted to sit the exams and the accredited grades system,” she said.

“It’s been a remarkable challenging year for them but they have shown remarkable resilience and goodwill and good humour.

“I have enormous faith in young people. In my experience, particularly from a schools points of view, students have been so co-operative and so willing and adhered to best practice advice in schools.”

This morning, Foley wished students good luck again and reminded them to adhere to public safety guidelines during the exam period.

“You should limit your contacts and continue to follow the public health advice right up until 29 June. This is incredibly important to ensure all students have a fair opportunity to sit their exams.”

It is intended that the results of the Leaving Certificate examinations and Accredited Grades will be issued on 3 September. 

Best of luck, everyone!

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