Leaving Cert: Students to have choice between predicted grades and exams

Oral exams to be held during Easter holidays

The Government has confirmed that all Leaving Cert students will be given the option of choosing predicted grades or sitting exams in June this year.

This will allow students to pick and choose between predicted grades or written exams – or both – for individual subjects, and secure whichever grade is highest.

Oral exams will be held during the Easter holidays or shortly afterwards for students who opt to take exams.

Students who opt for predicted grades only will not be required to complete these exams.


In some subjects, the holding of practical exams will not be possible due to public health considerations. Details on this are due to be confirmed shortly.

Junior Certificate exams for 60,000 students will be cancelled to make way for a greater focus on facilitating the Leaving Cert.

Alternative assessment arrangements will be implemented for these students in a similar manner to last year.

The written Leaving Cert exams are due to get underway in June and a timetable is due to be published by the State Examinations Commission on Thursday.

In a statement, Minister for Education Norma Foley said the decision provided "clarity and choice" for students.

“I am conscious that many students are concerned that they have not covered the full curriculum for their subjects in class, due to the interruption of in-person learning caused by the pandemic,” she said.

“Everyone wants a system that is fair and that provides the opportunity for real progression for students.”

She said last year’s predicted grades system will be renamed as an “accredited grade” process, which will be overseen by the State Examinations Commission.

The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union welcomed the announcement which it said provides for “clarity, choice and compassion” for students.

However, the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland said it was “bitterly disappointed” that the model predicted grades excludes any externally assessed work such as orals. It said the “lack of credible data” will prove challenging in provided these grades.

School reopening

Leaving Cert students are likely to be able to return to the classroom from March 1st, though a formal agreement has yet to be reached.

While the Teachers’ Union of Ireland has said it will facilitate the return of Leaving Cert students, the Association of Secondary Teachers’ Ireland has yet to do so.

The Government and unions are keen to encourage as many students as possible to sit the written exams and remain engaged with classes until the end of the school year.

They believe the fact that students will not have sight of their predicted grade results in advance of the June exams will provide an incentive for most students to sit the written papers as an “insurance policy”.

Under the new accredited grades process, students will have the opportunity to opt to receive an accredited grade or sit the Leaving Cert exam on a subject-by-subject basis.

The provision of both predicted grades and written exam grades is set to pose a challenge for education authorities in standardising results across the two sets of results.

Experts believe this will lead to grade inflation this year and will likely send CAO points to a record high.

Predicted or accredited grades will likely be based on similar sources of data as last year such as teachers’ estimated grades and a standardisation process.

It is unclear at this stage whether school “profiling” – that is, a school’s track record of Leaving Cert results – will be included in this standardisation process.

The decision to withdraw this data last year in awarding students grades is at the centre of a high-profile High Court action.

The Irish Times also understands that the Government plans to enact legislation in advance of the exams to give the State Examinations Commission oversight of the calculated grades process.

Last year this function was completed by the Department of Education on the basis that the commission only had legal authority to oversee traditional exams.

Ms Foley said all aspects of staging the examinations will be guided by public health advice and schools will be given clear guidance on the staging of the exams.

Public health authorities are also understood to have advised that it is safe to conduct Leaving Cert exams in schools with modifications, similar to the delayed November Leaving Cert exams.

This saw socially distanced students sit exams in classrooms and exam halls, typically overseen by an external supervisor.

Ms Foley also confirmed that the results of the Leaving Certificate 2021 process will issue to students within the required timeframe for CAO admission to higher and further education.

The results will also issue within the timeframe currently required by Ucas, the UK’s equivalent of the CAO.


The Irish Second-Level Students’ Union (ISSU) education officer Alicia O’Sullivan, said students were delighted that they have finally received clarity about their State exams.

“We are also proud that we have delivered choice for students. The student voice has been heard in these negotiations, and we will continue to work to ensure that is always the case,” she said.

The ISSU's president Reuban Murray, however, expressed regret that students who opt-in to receive calculated grades will not receive them before the written examinations.

The Joint Managerial Body, the largest school management body for secondary schools, welcomed the annoucement  as a "measured and considered response to a complex issue".

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times