Leaving Certificate 2021 FAQ

Impact of COVID-19 on Teaching

As a result of national public health measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, programme delivery will be via hybrid learning, consisting of both online and face to face learning and teaching. The extent of face-to-face learning and teaching will be dictated by the parameters of prevailing national public health requirements.

NUI Statment Concerning Subjects Taken Outside of School

In the extraordinary circumstances of 2020, students who have applied for a calculated grade in a subject or subjects in the Leaving Certificate 2020, with a view to satisfying matriculation/minimum entry requirements and for whom the Executive Office for Calculated Grades has been unable to award a Calculated Grade in the subject(s), will be granted an exemption in the subject(s) solely for matriculation/minimum entry purposes.  (These exemptions will be granted automatically: it will not be necessary for students to apply individually.)

The subject(s) will count as a subject(s) for matriculation, but will not attract points and the exemption(s) cannot be used to satisfy additional programme requirements over and above the matriculation/minimum entry requirements.

Leaving Certificate 2020 - Frequently Asked Questions

For the most up to date information on the Leaving Cert 2020, please visit https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/2f07eb-leaving-cert-2020-information/  


1. What has been announced and why?

The 2020 Leaving Certificate written examinations previously scheduled to start on 29 July have been postponed. Students will now be offered Calculated Grades. They will also have the opportunity to sit the exams at a later stage when it is safer to do so.

After detailed consideration, it is the Department’s firm assessment that running the exams poses too great a risk to students, their families and those involved in running them.

The logistics of holding the exams, with all the precautions that would have to be put in place to prevent the risk of further infection, would mean that they would not be held under normal conditions.

2. Is there going to be a Leaving Certificate 2021?

Yes. All students will be given the option to receive a State Certificate of Calculated Grades in each subject. It will have the same status as Leaving Certificates awarded to students in previous years.

Students will also have the opportunity to sit the conventional Leaving Certificate examination if they wish at the earliest safe and practical time.

3. Why were the exams not moved online or changed to allow people to sit shorter papers?

Many different scenarios have been considered over a number of weeks, each with their flaws and faults.

There is no perfect solution to this unprecedented challenge.

Online exams; shortened papers; fewer examinations – none of these options would have been as fair an assessment as the Calculated Grades model. They would also have been markedly different from previous Leaving Certificate examinations and from what students and their teachers are familiar with and have been preparing for in terms of structure, format and content, over the past two years.

Changes like those would have called into question the validity of the state examinations this year.

4. How will the system of Calculated Grades work?

Calculated Grades will be generated using a systematic statistical model. It will combine estimates of a student’s expected performance in a subject and level, with information about how students in this school have fared in this subject in recent years in line with national performance standards over time.

The statistical process will take account of the fact that the particular group of students in the school in 2020 may be stronger or weaker than in previous years, and will also allow for the fact that particular individuals within those groups might have levels of achievement that vary considerably from what has previously been seen in the school.

The first source of data will be provided by the subject teacher. It will then be aligned in the school, with teachers consulting on the results before the principal reviews the process applied to assure the fair treatment of all students. The school then sends the data to the Department of Education and Skills.

A more detailed document A Guide to Calculated Grades for Leaving Certificate students 2020 will explain further how the system will work.

There will be strong oversight and control and a number of inherent quality assurance measures to ensure students receive a fair result.

5. How will the calculated grades approach work for the Leaving Cert Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP)?

LCA students have already completed a lot of their assessments. These results are already held by the students. Calculated grades will be used for outstanding assessments, including subjects, vocational specialisms and tasks due to be completed in the current LCA session.

Students will be provided with a calculated grade for the LCVP Link Modules.

6. What information will schools be asked to provide for each student?

Teachers will be asked to provide an estimated percentage mark for each student for each subject. Students will also be put in a rank order in their class.

Teachers are being asked to draw on existing records and available evidence, to provide a fair, reasonable and carefully considered judgement of the most likely percentage mark that each student would have achieved if they had sat their examinations and completed coursework under normal conditions.

Teachers will NOT be simply passing on results from mock examinations or other tests.

Schools will then align this data before it is passed on to the Department of Education and Skills.

7. What evidence will teachers use to support their judgements?

Teachers will use a number of records of a student’s performance and progress; for example, classwork and homework; class assessments; examinations in school, at Christmas or summer, mock exams and also coursework.

A guidance document will be available for teachers.

8. Can I appeal the outcome?

Yes. The appeal will involve checks on school-entered data, correct transfer of that data to the Department, and a review that it was correctly received and processed by the Department. If a student remains dissatisfied at the end of this process they can seek verification of the Department’s processes by independent appeal scrutineers.

Under the Calculated Grades system, the percentage mark provided by the teacher cannot be reviewed.

All students will retain the option to sit a Leaving Certificate examination at a later stage when it is safe and practicable to do so.

9. Will students be able to see a record of the percentage mark that the school has given?

Yes. Students will have access to the school-based data in the event that they appeal.

In the detailed guidance that we are providing to schools and teachers we will be making it very clear that schools should not disclose the estimated marks or rank orders to students or to their parents/guardians.

10. Will teachers be using Junior Cycle results?

No. Junior Cycle results are not being used at an individual student level. They are only being used at a group level as part of the process of standardising across schools.

11. What if there is a conflict of interest, e.g. a teacher who teaches a relative or a friend’s son or daughter?

If a teacher has a real or perceived conflict of interest with a student in their class they must declare this to the school principal.

There will be additional oversight by a nominated teacher and a deputy principal in such cases.

12. What actually happens in the national standardisation process?

After the estimated percentage marks are received from all schools, the Department will analyse them and carry out a process of national standardisation.

We will compare information about how students in this school have fared in this subject at Leaving Certificate over the past three years to the national standard. We will also review the performance of this year’s group of students against their overall performance at Junior Cycle.

This then allows us to check whether the estimated percentage marks in each subject from the school are reasonable, in light of performance in that subject in recent years. Therefore, any alignment of marks upwards or downwards will be based on more than one single piece of information.

13. How will the system ensure that student’s individual achievements are fairly rewarded?

The calculated grade system depends on the differences between students being accurately reflected in the school-based data. For example, if there is a student in a class group who performs better than the other students in the class group then this difference should be reflected in the estimated percentage marks assigned by the school.

However, we will also carry out other checks to identify any cases where there might be something unusual about an individual’s estimated mark. .We will follow up on these cases to check whether there is a good reason and give the school a chance to change the estimated mark if necessary.

14. Will marks or rank order change in the standardisation process?

We expect that some estimated marks may change, to at least some degree. Although some will change more than others depending on the quality of the data we receive from schools.

The ranking ordering of students by the school in their class grouping will be retained in the process, so students will keep their position relative to each other.

After this standardisation and all follow-on checks have been completed, the estimated mark supplied by the school is transformed into a calculated mark. We then use this to generate a calculated grade.

15. Isn’t the calculated grades model inherently unfair?

No. It is the fairest way possible to tackle the effects that lack of schooling and other problems caused by Covid-19 can be ameliorated for ALL candidates.

Students have had a very broken schooling experience - some have had access to schooling through online learning, others haven’t.

An exam held under current health restrictions would be greatly different to the examination that students expected and SEC has advised it would not be reliable or fair to students.

The model uses the best information we have about students’ achivements by asking teachers to review several pieces of information about their work over the last two years. Teachers have to keep a record of the evidence that they used to come to the estimated mark and ranking.

Several checks are built in at school level:

·     teachers must share their rankings and students’ estimated marks with their fellow teachers before they are provided to the principal

·     principal oversees the process and submits the rankings and marks to the Department AND can refer any marks or rankings back to the relevant group of teachers for re-consideration, if needed

·     National standardisation ensures that students are treated equitably across the country

·     An appeals process is available involving several checks and of course, if they prefer, candidates will be able to take the examination when it is safe to do so.

16. Does national standardisation favour a particular type of school?

No, the national standardisation process does not favour any type of student or school. The most important information about each student is the estimated marks and ranking that the school provides to the Department. The national standardisation process just serves to make sure that your school has not been too harsh or too lenient when giving estimated scores to the Department.

We expect it to be quite common that the estimated marks in one subject from a school will need to be moved up and the marks in another subject from the same school will need to be moved down.

If you are a particularly strong candidate in your class, and the information provided by the school reflects this then you will still emerge as a particularly strong candidate. The process will ensure that your calculated score will be as close to what you would have achieved in the examinations as it is possible to calculate.

The statistical process we are using will not impose any predetermined score on any individual in a class or a school.

The process of standardisation will be independently checked by external experts to make sure that it operates fairly for all candidates and all schools.

17. What about students with reasonable accommodations? How will this be taken into account?

Where any reasonable accommodation has been approved by the SEC for any student, such as a reader or scribe, schools will be asked to base their estimate of the student’s likely performance on the assumption that this accommodation would have been available.

18. What about students who don’t attend or who are taking extra subjects outside school?

While these scenarios are the exception rather than the rule every effort will be made to calculate a grade, provided there is sufficient evidence available.

In the case of students taking a subject outside school, the guidance provides details of how schools should proceed if school management authorities are confident that there is sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective judgement.

For students in receipt of home tuition with an association to the school, the guidance will provide information for school authorities to engage with the home tutor in arriving at a decision. Whether a valid estimate of performance can be provided will depend on whether the home tutor is a registered teacher and where the school is satisfied with the evidence used to support the judgment.

19. I am repeating one subject outside of school because I want to satisfy a minimum entry requirement for a college place or I sat my Leaving Certificate in 2019 but am repeating Irish because I want to fulfil the minimum entry requirement for entry to a primary teacher education programme. How will I do that with the calculated grades model?

If you are studying one or more subjects outside of a recognised school, the Department will be flexible in accepting estimated marks and rankings from other schools or colleges, and will look at this issue on a case-by-case basis. In general, we can say that, provided we can receive an estimated mark and ranking from a teacher in a way that is fair to all candidates, we will seek to provide a calculated grade. You will be able to use this calculated grade in the same way as a Leaving Certificate grade to satisfy minimum entry requirements.

20. Can I appeal the Calculated Grades?

Yes. Due to the nature of the model, the professional judgment of the teacher or the school will not form part of the appeals process.

Students unhappy with the calculated grade they receive will have access to a three-stage appeals process.

Stage 1: Checks will be undertaken to ensure that the process was completed correctly by the school and that the intended information was recorded correctly by the school and that the information was transferred correctly into the data collection system. There will also be a review to ensure that the data was correctly received and processed in the calculated grade model.

Stage 2: Students can then seek a review by Independent Appeal Scrutineers.

Stage 3: Following this review, there will also be an opportunity to sit the written examinations later in the year when it is safe and practicable to do so.

In addition, there will be oversight by an independent international expert unconnected with the design of the calculated grades model to provide overall validation of the model, including the operation of the appeals system.

21. What if I apply to sit the exams, but then am unable to do so. Will I get a second chance at sitting them?

Unfortunately it is intended that there will be one sitting only of the 2021 Leaving Certificate Examination for the 2021 examinations.

22. When will the grades be issued?

The plan is that calculated grades will be provided to candidates on 7th September

23. Will the grades be the same as in other years?

Yes. Students will receive a provisional statement of results with grades in the same format as every other year.

Subsequently students will receive a formal final certificate confirming the grades.

24. What about the CAO process – how will it be affected by this change?

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.

25. Does the same apply for people looking to study in the UK or Europe?

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.

26. When will third level courses start?

While we can’t be specific about that yet, it will be late September or early October. Third level institutions are in constant contact with the Department on a range of issues in relation to enrolments and courses for the 2020/2021 academic year.

27. When will the results of the appeals issue? Will it be possible to start college this year using the appeal results?

Work is ongoing with the higher education sector to integrate the timing of the first stage of the appeals process with the start date for college entry.

Students who receive an upgraded CAO place following Stage 1 of the appeals process may be able to take up their place in the 2020/2021 academic year.

Students who are successful at the Independent Appeal Scrutineer stage, and who receive an improved CAO offer at that stage, will receive a deferred offer to start their course in the 2021/22 academic year.

Students who opt to sit the Leaving Certificate examinations later in the year and who receive an improved CAO offer on foot of these results will also receive a deferred college offer to start their course in the 2021/22 academic year. If a candidate who has started first year of a course becomes entitled to a higher CAO offer and chooses to accept same in the following academic year, attendance for the first year on the new course would remain eligible for free fees and SUSI funding as appropriate.

28. Can I mix my 2020 exam grades and Calculated Grades in different subjects to get points for access to higher education?

Yes. In these exceptional circumstances, all of the results issued on foot of the examinations this year - calculated grades; appeals and the later written examination - will be considered the results of the 2021 Leaving Certificate.

29. What are the detailed arrangements for the Leaving Certificate exams to be held later this year?

The SEC will set about putting the detailed arrangements for these examinations in place, guided of course by health advice.

30. What about the Leaving Certificate fee?

Where students opt to sit the conventional Leaving Certificate examination later in the year the examination fee will be waived. Anyone who has paid already will be refunded.

31. When does tuition to final year Leaving Certificate students cease, given that calculated grades are being put in place?

As of 11 May 2020, tuition (whether online or in other ways) ceased for sixth-year leaving certificate students. This applies to the Leaving Certificate established, Leaving Certificate Applied (LCA) and Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP).

No additional work will be accepted from students from this date. Teachers and students may not discuss the student’s achievement in the subject over the past two years. Nor can they discuss the student’s ranking in a class, or their estimated mark or the level at which an estimated mark is to be provided in a subject.

However, students remain students of the school until the end of the school term. In terms of the school’s role in supporting the wellbeing of Leaving Certificate students, the role of the Student Support Team as set out in the guidance issued recently to schools, should remain available until the end of the school term. You can access links to the supports provided by the National Education Psychological Service (NEPS) here.

32. Can Guidance Counsellors continue to work with students after the May 11th 2021 cessation of tuition announcement?

Protocol for Guidance Counsellors and members of the Student Support Team

Schools continue to play an important role in supporting the wellbeing of Leaving Certificate students.

They remain students of the school until the end of the school term, 29 May 2020, and the role of the Student Support Team, as set out in guidance issued recently to schools, should remain available until this time.

Guidance Counsellors are permitted to continue to provide guidance counselling support to 6th year students (1:1 and small group work). This may be provided to students wishing to discuss their social, personal, education and career concerns.

However, In advance of any planned interaction with students a clear statement must be communicated to students and parents/guardians that the guidance counsellor will not be engaging in discussions regarding the calculated grading process or potential marks awarded by teachers. Guidance Counsellors, teachers and students may not discuss the student’s achievement in the subject over the past two years. Nor can they discuss the student’s ranking in a class, or their estimated mark or the level at which an estimated mark is to be provided in a subject.

All conversations between Leaving Certificate students and members of the School’s Student Support Team, during this time, need to be prefaced with a statement such as the following:

"As part of our conversation today we are prohibited from having any discussion about student achievement over the past 2 years, student ranking in a class, student’s estimated mark or the level an estimated mark is to be provided in a subject. If our conversation strays into speaking about any of these matters, our meeting will have to cease immediately”.

33. What if a students is studying one or more subjects outside their school?

In cases where a student is attending school, but is studying one or more subjects outside of school, school principals were asked to make every effort to provide an estimated mark for that subject(s) provided there was sufficient, credible evidence available from an appropriate source.

If the principal was unable to provide an estimated mark for any student, they were asked to notify the Calculated Grades Executive Office (CGEO) in the Department of Education and Skills. The CGEO is currently undertaking a review of these reports with the schools involved, to ensure that the correct procedures were followed.

34. What about out of school learners?

Out of school learners, that is, Leaving Certificate students who were not attending any school on a full-time basis, had to apply directly to the CGEO for Calculated Grades and these applications are currently being processed. Any student in this group who has not yet applied to be considered for Calculated Grades will be contacted by the CGEO to confirm whether or not they wish to do so. The processing of the applications will involve contacting the teachers, tutors or centres of learning, nominated by the student to provide an estimated mark on their behalf.

Where it is deemed not possible to provide a Calculated Grade in a subject(s), to either an out of school learner or a student studying a subject outside of school, the student will be contacted by the CGEO to inform them of this decision. The student will be afforded the opportunity to appeal the decision. If the student remains dissatisfied they have recourse to an independent appeal scrutiny process if they wish. This process has to be completed so that this information is available for the national standardisation process which will generate the calculated grades. The national standardisation process will combine the school-sourced data and the historical data to ensure the Calculated Grades reflect standards that are properly aligned across schools and with a national standard.

Despite every effort being made by schools and by the Department of Education and Skills to provide Calculated Grades to as many students as possible, there will be a small number of cases where there is no credible evidence from an appropriate source to support a Calculated Grade in a particular subject. To attempt to give a Calculated Grade in such cases would be unfair to all other students.

Where it is not possible to provide a Calculated Grade, students will have the opportunity to sit the 2020 Leaving Certificate examinations in one or more subjects at a later date when it is safe to do so.

35. May I sit the Leaving Certificate examinations at a later stage?

Even if you opt to receive Calculated Grades you will still have an opportunity to sit the later Leaving Certificate examinations in one or more subjects.

If you do this, your final Leaving Certificate will reflect the best results for you. For example:

  • if you sit the later examinations and you receive a grade lower than the Calculated Grade that you received in the subject, your certificate will display the Calculated Grade, as this is higher.
  • if you receive a higher grade in the later examination, then this is the grade that will appear on your certificate.

However, it is important to note that grades from the later examinations will not be available in time for CAO and UCAS in the 2020/2021 academic year.

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