Billy Ryle: Students Now Have Clarity About Leaving Cert Ahead

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Billy Ryle says the announcement delivered yesterday is good news for students as it gives clarity as regards the Leaving Cert…

The 1st of February brought welcome relief and certainty for exam candidates with a reduction in CAO applications and clarity on the format of the 2022 Leaving Cert exam.

Minister Norma Foley announced on Tuesday that the hybrid Leaving Cert format of 2021 will not be available this year. Instead, a written exam will be provided for all candidates in June.

Back in 2020, the traditional Leaving Cert exam was replaced by calculated grades based on teachers’ estimated marks.

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Last year, candidates were given a choice between written exams or accredited grades or a mixture of both assessment methodologies.

In the case of candidates who opted for a mixture of both systems, the higher grade achieved in each subject was awarded.

The State Examinations Commission (SEC) was adamant that it could not replicate last year’s accredited grades system because 25% of the candidates don’t have Junior Cycle exam results, which are included in the statistical instrument of accreditation (algorithm).

In addition, the Department of Education was determined to avoid a repeat of the grades inflation of last year, which led to an unprecedented level of competition, depriving some of the highest achieving applicants of their first choice in the CAO college application system.

On Tuesday, Minister Foley said that this year’s Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle will be held as exams only. Leaving Cert candidates will be given extra choice on exam papers, they will have to answer fewer questions and they are guaranteed that their results will be no lower than 2021.

She confirmed that the Leaving cert results in 2022 will be adjusted to match last year’s. The latter commitment means that this year’s Leaving Cert candidates will notch up an average of at least 60 CAO points more than they would have achieved had they sat the exam in 2019 before the pandemic hit.

It also addresses a key concern of the 2022 Leaving Cert Class about competing for college courses with candidates who benefitted from grades inflation in 2020 and 2021.

The adjustments to Leaving Cert exam papers this year will be the same as those that were made last year.

The significant changes to Leaving Cert assessments, across papers and other assessment components are aimed at lessening the work load for candidates. The Junior Cycle exams will also take place for the first time since 2019.

An alternative set of Leaving Cert exams will be held following the main set of exams, to provide for students who may experience a close family bereavement, Covid-19 illness and certain other categories of serious illness, during the first exam period.

The timetable for the written Leaving Cert and Junior Cycle exams is expected to be published by the SEC shortly and arrangements for Leaving Certificate orals and practical music exams are already in place.

Leaving Cert candidates will now have a very wide choice in the Leaving Cert written exams. Changes have also been made to Junior Cycle requirements, among them a reduction in the number of classroom-based assessments from two to one.

Students can use 2021 exam papers as a guide and full details of 2022 subject syllabi and question paper format will be published in the coming days by the SEC.

Meanwhile, early CAO figures indicate that the rush to college may be levelling off. By early application deadline of 20th January, CAO had received 65,535 applications, down 922 from the 66,457, who had applied by the same date last year.

By normal closing date of 1st February, 78,162 applications had been lodged with the CAO, down 1,141 from the 79,303 who had applied by the same time last year.

With the addition of late applications to CAO, the number of applicants in 2021 eventually increased to a record 84,526 applications.

With the economy beginning to boom it’s quite possible that more Leaving Cert candidates are looking seriously at the jobs market, apprenticeships, traineeships and further education as an alternative to the CAO route.

All will be revealed when the final number of CAO applications is released later in the year.

After an uncertain January, Spring has heralded in good news for anxious exam candidates.  The bounce is back in the economy, unemployment is falling rapidly, CAO college applications have reduced, the path to the Leaving Cert is clear and, of course, sport and social life are in full swing.

• Billy Ryle is a Career Guidance Counsellor and Educational Commentator

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