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Cabinet decision about Leaving Cert exams to be announced this afternoon, Taoiseach confirms

Leo Varadkar spoke to Pat Kenny on Newstalk this morning.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at Government Buildings in March.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at Government Buildings in March.
Image: Gareth Chaney

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said a proposal will be brought forward to Cabinet relating to the Leaving Cert exams by Minister for Education Joe McHugh. 

McHugh is expected to make a recommendation that this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations be cancelled.

The exams are understood to be replaced by a system in which students will be awarded points or grades based on their classwork.

McHugh will propose his idea to Cabinet when it meets at 11am today. They will discuss it and vote to reach a final decision. 

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. 

He added that the Leaving Cert is a “very fair, very objective” way of assessing educational achievement in school. 

If it’s not possible to proceed for reasons related to the pandemic, I think then it’s really important that the Department of Education and the education partners come up with an alternative that is fair or at least as fair as it possibly can be.

“No matter what decision is made this morning, there will be a lot of people who are disappointed in the decision, and there will be a lot of questions.

“A huge amount of work has been done by minister McHugh and others in the education sector, preparing answers to those questions for today so that our sixth years have certainty.”

Varadkar said he was not notified before Fianna Fáil released a statement last weekend calling for the cancellation of the Leaving Cert. 

“Different parties have expressed different views on this and parties have changed their position on this and you know we listen to what people have to say whether it’s other political parties, whether it’s the National Parents Council, Secondary Students’ Union,” he said. 

In terms of the plan for schools to re-open in September, he said the government is observing the situation in other European countries where they are starting to re-open schools now. 

“And that learning experience is going to be very useful for us when schools open in September,” Varadkar said. 

But I’m sure there will be problems in the first week or two, but better that those problems arise at the start of the school year in September than in the middle of a State exam.

Speculation about the cancellation of the Leaving Cert exams has been mounting since reports emerged last night.   

Meetings have been 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.

In an earlier statement, a department spokesperson said the advisory group “continued its discussions on the practicalities of holding the Leaving Certificate examinations, given the constraints of social distancing and other measures that may be required, based on the available medical advice”. 

The group also discussed alternative assessment models, and received updates on the measures that have been put in place to support students’ wellbeing.

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