Commencement of Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021 – Wednesday 9 June 2021

Some, 61,500 candidates are entered for the 2021 Leaving Certificate which comprises both examinations and Accredited Grades.  Candidates have been able to opt to sit their examinations, to receive Accredited Grades, or both on a subject-by-subject basis.  Candidates finalised their choices through the Candidate Self Service Portal in early May.  In total, 58,342 candidates are entered for the Leaving Certificate and 3,177 candidates are entered for the final year of the Leaving Certificate Applied programme.

On Wednesday 9th June 2021, some 55,000 candidates who have opted to sit Leaving Certificate examinations will commence their Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied examinations across the country through the network of some 780 post-primary schools and other venues recognised by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to hold the certificate examinations.  The examinations will be held in some 4,900 examination centres running until Tuesday 29 June for Leaving Certificate (Established and Vocational).  The examinations in the Leaving Certificate Applied programme finish on Thursday 17 June.

The majority of candidates have confirmed their intention to sit examinations this year. From the latest information available to the State Examinations Commission (SEC), 90% of all candidates have indicated their intention to sit examinations in one or more subjects with almost 40,000 indicating their intention to present in 5 or more subjects.

Following the Government’s decision on 17 February 2021 and the enactment of the Education (Leaving Certificate 2021) (Accredited Grades) Act, the SEC will operate the Leaving Certificate  examinations and the alternative option of Accredited Grades which is essential to ensuring a fair system, having regard to the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and the loss of learning to this group of students due to the interruption of in-person teaching and learning during the periods of school closure.

The SEC will run the system of examinations and Accredited Grades and issue candidates with a single set of provisional results which seamlessly integrates both processes.  Those who have sat examinations only will be provided with examinations results; those who have opted for Accredited Grades only will be provided with Accredited Grades; and those who have opted for both will be provided with the better result between the two processes.

The Government’s decision of 17 February regarding Examinations 2021 included the cancellation of Junior Cycle examinations.  Similar to 2020, the opportunity to sit Junior Cycle examinations will be offered to adult learners and early school leavers in October.

There has been detailed engagement with the Public Health authorities and all of the stakeholders, through the Advisory Group on Planning for the State Examinations 2021, in planning for the delivery and conduct of all aspects of 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations, including the written examinations.  In addition to the normal challenges that arise at examinations time, this year the SEC, with the support and assistance of school authorities, needs to ensure that the Leaving Certificate Examinations are held in compliance with Public Health requirements to protect the health of candidates, Superintendents, student attendants and others involved in examinations delivery in schools and also to ensure that the arrangements continue to mitigate any risk to examination security and integrity.

Mr. Pat Burke, Chairperson of the State Examinations Commission and his fellow Commissioners extend their very best wishes on behalf of the SEC to all Leaving Certificate candidates for the 2021 Leaving Certificate. Speaking before the start of the examinations, Mr 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. For our part, we in the State Examinations Commission will do our utmost to deliver the examinations and the Accredited Grades as fairly and smoothly as possible in what continue to be challenging times.

In relation to the arrangements for the conduct of the examinations, which have been developed in consultation with the Public Health authorities, Mr Burke expressed his appreciation to those involved stating “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.  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.”

To those intending to sit the examinations, Mr Burke went on to say that “The Board and staff of the State Examinations Commission are very aware of the effort which students and their families have invested in the forthcoming examinations and extend their best wishes to all”.

Candidates confirmed their Leaving Certificate choices of examinations, Accredited Grades, or both on a subject by subject basis through the Candidate Self Service Portal 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 numbers of candidates opting for examinations only is fewer than 5% of the number of candidates entered for any subject. 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.

When the Candidate Self Service Portal closed on 1 May, there was no further opportunity for candidates to update their choices.  However, in response to requests from candidates in recent weeks wanting to now opt for Accredited Grades, it has been decided that a further opportunity will be provided to eligible candidates later in the summer.  The SEC will contact all eligible candidates to offer them the option to receive Accredited Grades. This does not require candidates to take any action at this time.

In advance of the examinations, it has also been clarified that the performance of candidates in their written examinations will not be used in calculating their Accredited Grades nor will Accredited Grades have any input to the Leaving Certificate examination results. The examinations and the Accredited Grades will be run as two separate processes and will be brought together only for the purposes of issuing the results including determining the better result for those candidates who have opted for both.

While it is hoped that all candidates who want to sit the examinations will have this opportunity, it is likely that some candidates will not be able to take their examinations this year for both COVID and non-COVID reasons noting that, in all circumstances, Public Health considerations must take precedence over examinations attendance.  Accredited Grades will provide contingency for candidates in the event that a candidate cannot sit the examinations due to COVID-19 (whether through being a confirmed case; a close contact; or having symptoms of COVID; or due to a requirement to self-isolate or restrict their movements) or for other reasons such as bereavement, hospitalisation or other medical emergency.  While less likely, circumstances also need to be considered where it is not possible to run the examinations due to a more significant disruption such as a school closure or a local, county, regional or national lockdown.  Most candidates this year are eligible for Accredited Grades but there are some exceptions to this such as candidates who are Out Of School Learners or who are studying one or more subjects out of school and who have not engaged in the process or who have been unable to provide evidence of their learning.

From Tuesday 8 June, schools and SEC Superintendents will have access to an Examinations Emergency Helpline, for the duration of the examinations, for non-routine matters which threaten the security or integrity of the examinations.

The arrangements which have been made to support schools in managing COVID-19 during the school year will continue in effect over the course of the examinations period and the dedicated HSE live COVID-19 Principal school line will continue to be available over the course of the examinations.

It is intended that the results of the Leaving Certificate examinations and Accredited Grades will be issued on 3 September 2021, on the Candidate Self Service Portal.  Candidates will have access to appeals processes for both the examinations and Accredited Grades, details of which will be provided in due course.

  1. Candidate Information Guide.

Candidates have been provided with a detailed information guide to the 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations. The guide is available at https://www.examinations.ie/misc-doc/EN-CA-9809541.pdf

  1. Conduct of the 2021 Leaving Certificate Examinations

The 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations will be conducted through the network of post-primary schools and other venues recognised by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) to hold the certificate examinations.  This includes further education settings; Youthreach settings; prisons; youth detention centres and private colleges as well as recognised post primary schools.

In addition to the normal challenges that arise at examinations time, this year the SEC and its agents, with the support and assistance of school authorities, need to ensure that the Leaving Certificate Examinations are held in compliance with Public Health requirements to protect the health of candidates, Superintendents, attendants and others involved in examinations delivery in schools and also to ensure that the arrangements continue to mitigate any risk to examination security and integrity.

Arrangements have been put in place to make the examinations settings as safe as possible.  These are built around basic Public Health principles for infection prevention and control and the Public Health measures already in practice in post-primary schools.  The SEC is reliant on school authorities and Superintendents in the implementation of these arrangements.  Candidates also play a critical role in complying with measures designed to protect their health and safety over the course of the examinations period and guidance has issued to candidates in this regard.  A summary of the measures follows:

  • Candidates will be assigned to the same desk in the same examination centre for the duration of their examinations other than for specific logistical reasons (e.g. aural examinations).

  • Superintendents will be in the same room for the duration of the examinations unless they are required to move rooms by the school authority in an emergency situation.  (If there is a need to move rooms schools are required to contact the SEC).

  • In the examination centre, all desks will be at least 2 metres apart (front, back and side to side).

  • Candidates, Superintendents, school personnel and attendants must wear appropriate face coverings (i.e. masks covering nose and mouth) at all times.  A candidate who refuses/fails to wear a mask (other than on authorised medical grounds) will be refused access to the examinations.

  • Candidates must observe social distancing in accessing the centre, in the centre, and on their departure from the centre.

  • Superintendents will observe social distancing and minimise their interactions to those required for the delivery and integrity of the examinations.

  • There will be particular attention to cleaning and sanitation of all room surfaces and any equipment used (e.g. CD players, etc.) before and after examinations based on the normal arrangements that apply in schools.

  • There will be attention by all parties to respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene to reduce the risk of transmission.

  • All rooms must be adequately ventilated even when taking account of the need to ensure that external noise does not interfere with the examinations.

  • Candidates will be required to have their own pens, calculator, etc.

 Examinations: 9 June to 29 June

The main examination session commences on Wednesday 9 June and runs until Tuesday 29 June for Leaving Certificate examinations and 17 June for Leaving Certificate Applied, although not all schools will have examinations running for the full duration of the timetable. The examinations will run to the published examination timetable with some flexibility for alternative scheduling on the same day of the examination in certain very exceptional circumstances (i.e. to allow a bereaved candidate to attend the funeral of a close relative).  As in other years, schools do not have discretion to make such arrangements locally and all requests for an early or late sitting of an examination require sanction from the SEC.

The scheduling of examinations during the Easter Holidays and on Saturdays in May meant that the numbers of students and personnel in schools was minimised so that these final examinations were fully compliant with Public Health guidance.  With the co-operation of schools, Leaving Certificate oral examinations were conducted during the Easter holidays, at weekends and outside normal school times and were completed by 16th April. The LCVP -Links Modules examination and the Department of Education organised Language Proficiency Assessment in the Non-Curricular Languages ran successfully on Saturday 8 May.  The Leaving Certificate Computer Science terminal examination ran successfully on Saturday 22 May. Leaving Certificate Applied oral examinations were completed on 13 May.

3. COVID-19 and the Examinations

Recognising the absolute priority that has been afforded to ensuring that it is possible to run the Leaving Certificate examinations this year in all locations and settings, there are a number of key messages that were communicated to minimise the risk of COVID-19 preventing Leaving Certificate candidates from being able to complete their examinations.

Restrictions on Candidates Presenting for their Examinations

Candidates will not be allowed to present for their examinations in the following circumstances:

  • they have been diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • they are unwell or have any symptoms of COVID-19.

  • they develop COVID-19 symptoms at any stage over the course of the examinations.

  • they are self-isolating, have been instructed to self-isolate.

  • they are quarantining or restricting their movements.

  • they are a close contact of a confirmed case

While the country is starting to open up, the actions of all involved in minimising the opportunity for COVID-19 to spread will be instrumental in ensuring that Leaving Certificate candidates can be provided with the opportunity to take their examinations in June.  The key messages communicated to school staff, candidates, their families and the wider community, which are relevant from now until the end of the examinations on the 29 June, are as follows:

  • Continue to follow the basic Public Health advice in relation to social distancing, handwashing/sanitising, respiratory etiquette, and the wearing of face coverings.

  • Leaving Certificate candidates should stay within their normal pod, such as their class or family pod.

  • When the examinations commence, candidates should stay within their examination centre pod.  This includes before, between and after examinations.

  • Limit interactions with others even in outdoor settings and avoid gatherings that present risks of COVID-19.

  • This includes not getting together with other candidates in study groups in advance of, or over the course of, the examinations.

  • Follow the advice about the signs or symptoms of COVID-19; if they or anyone in their household shows signs or symptoms they should isolate and contact their GP for testing, and household members should restrict their movements until the results are known.

  • If candidates act without due care, it could mean that they and/or their friends do not get to sit their examinations due to COVID-19.

  1. Role of School Authorities

As in a normal year, the role of the school authority is concerned with the management of the orderly, secure and effective conduct of the Leaving Certificate and Leaving Certificate Applied examinations in their school.  Crucially, and recognising the shared objectives of all stakeholders that these examinations should proceed, the role this year also includes taking all necessary precautions for the safe delivery of the examinations through continued efforts for the prevention, early detection and control of COVID-19 in schools.

The arrangements for the delivery of the examinations in a manner which is compliant with all Public Health requirements will build on the arrangements which schools have been implementing for the safe and sustainable operation of post-primary schools as set out in the guidance documents which have been issued by the Department of Education throughout the year.

Non-school settings providing examinations are required to have their own plans and procedures in place in compliance with the Government’s Resilience and Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with COVID-19, and the ‘Work Safely Protocol’ which has been developed by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Health with guidance documents provided by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).  The ‘Work Safely Protocol’ reflects the latest advice issued by Government and National Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.  The management authorities in these settings should also have regard to the Department of Education guidance for post-primary schools and guidance issued by the Department of Further and Higher Education for Further Education centres.

To prevent the spread of the virus, the role of school authorities in managing COVID-19 outbreaks is as important during the examination period as it has been over the course of the school year.  Careful adherence by school management to the published guidance on dealing with COVID -19 outbreaks should ensure that the vast majority of candidates get to sit their examinations.

Candidates also have personal responsibility to manage their own behaviour in advance of and during the period of the examinations to ensure that they can attend for all of their examinations.  While best efforts are being made to ensure that all candidates who want to sit examinations will be able to sit them, it is entirely possible that not all candidates will be able to do so.

In all circumstances, Public Health considerations must take precedence over examinations attendance.

5. Contingency Arrangements for Candidates Unable to take their Examinations

Notwithstanding the very best efforts of all concerned, there may be circumstances in which individual candidates or groups of candidates will be unable to take their examinations and will instead have to rely on Accredited Grades.

There is no alternative sitting of the Leaving Certificate in 2021.  The safety net of Accredited Grades has been put in place.

Candidates will miss some or all of their examinations if, in advance of, or at any stage during, the period of the examinations, they:

  • are diagnosed with COVID-19.

  • are unwell and have any of the symptoms of COVID-19.

  • are self-isolating or have been instructed to self-isolate.

  • are quarantining or otherwise restricting their movements.

  • are a close contact of a confirmed case.

Candidates will also miss their examinations for other reasons such as other medical emergencies including hospitalisation.  Given the unique circumstances of this year, and restrictions on accessing hospitals, there will be no sitting of examinations in hospitals or other out of school settings as might have been possible in previous years.

Some candidates may experience a bereavement or other trauma over the course of the examinations and will not proceed with their examinations.  In the event of a bereavement of a close relative, there continues to be flexibility in scheduling an examination to allow a late or early start to an examination scheduled on the day of the funeral but there will be no opportunity to sit an examination on an alternative date as there was in 2019.

While less likely, circumstances also need to be considered where it is not possible to run the examinations due to a more significant disruption such as a school closure or a local, county, regional or national lockdown.

The vast majority of candidates will have Accredited Grades available to them as a safety net in the event that they are unable to take their examinations, even if they have not opted for Accredited Grades.

Even if candidates have not opted for an Accredited Grade in a subject or in any of their subjects, the Accredited Grade, provided the candidate is eligible, will be available as contingency in the event that the candidate cannot sit the examination in June.

It is important to note that where it has not been possible to provide a candidate with Accredited Grades and where that candidate has not, for whatever reason, attended for their examination(s), their next opportunity to sit the Leaving Certificate will be at the 2022 examinations.

6. The Education (Leaving Certificate 2021) (Accredited Grades) Act 2021

The Education (Leaving Certificate 2021) (Accredited Grades) Act 2021 confers on the SEC a number of statutory functions in relation to the system of Accredited Grades.  From the date of determination/vesting day, the statutory functions of the State Examinations Commission will comprise the examinations related functions set out in Section 6 of the Commission’s Establishment Order (SI 373/2003) and the Accredited Grades related functions set out in Section 6 of the Accredited Grades Act.

7. Leaving Certificate Timetable

For reasons of candidate wellbeing, an extended timetable was introduced for the 2019 Leaving Certificate Written examination. The extended timetable was designed to alleviate pressure on candidates by eliminating subject clashes as much as possible.  There has been a very particular focus on ensuring that there is a minimal chance that a candidate will have to take three examinations on one day.  However, not all clashes have been eliminated and there is still a possibility that some candidates, because of their particular subject choices, may have to sit three examinations in one day this year, or in the future.  The extended timetable has been put in place for the 2021 examinations also.

8. Non- Curricular EU Language Subjects

The SEC provides examinations in a range of subjects in the language area referred to as the non-curricular EU languages. These are languages which do not appear as part of the normal school curriculum but which students may opt to be examined in if they meet certain criteria. Chief among these conditions are the requirements that candidates for these examinations:

  • Be from a member state of the European Union;

  • Speak the language in which they opt to be examined in as a mother tongue;

  • Have followed a programme of study leading to the Leaving Certificate; and

  • Are taking Leaving Certificate English.

Another condition is that candidates may undertake examination in one non-curricular language subject only and for this reason, the SEC has scheduled all of the non-curricular examinations for one session – Monday 21st June 9.30am to 12.30pm. While the SEC provides examinations in 18 non-curricular language subjects, for the 2021 Leaving Certificate examinations, 1,454 candidates will be examined in the following seventeen subjects:

Bulgarian

Croatian

Czech

Danish

Dutch

Estonian

Finnish

Maltese

Hungarian

Latvian

Lithuanian

Polish

Portuguese

Romanian

Slovakian

Swedish

Modern Greek

The following table compares the predicted candidate entries for these subjects in the 2021 Leaving Certificate to the number of candidates that sat these examinations in 2019.

Subject

2019 (Sits)

2021 opted to sit

Dutch

17

22

Portuguese

116

110

Polish

780

664

Latvian

62

41

Lithuanian

177

134

Romanian

340

292

Hungarian

51

44

Czech

12

14

Slovakian

18

17

Bulgarian

16

21

Modern Greek

13

0

Croatian

61

70

Others less than 10 *

16

24

Total

1,679

1,454

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