Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Questions (294)

Joe O'Brien


294. Deputy Joe O'Brien asked the Minister for Education her plans in relation to the operation of the junior certificate 2021; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2321/21]

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Written answers (Question to Education)

Planning for the 2021 state examinations is underway by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) and my Department. It is recognised that a flexible and agile approach is necessary in light of the continuing fast-moving environment linked to Covid-19. This planning work is being assisted by an advisory group of key stakeholders which has recently been reconvened. I recognise the importance of listening to students, representatives of whom are on the Advisory Group. The advisory group also includes representatives of parents, teachers, school leadership and management bodies, the SEC, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Higher Education Authority and the Department of Education, including the National Educational Psychological Service.

The advisory group met on a number of occasions before Christmas, with a further meeting planned this week. The advisory group will consider all of the various issues arising in relation to the holding of the 2021 state examinations, including public health considerations and appropriate contingency measures.

My Department is acutely aware of the disruption caused to students as a result of school closures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic which led the decision not to run the state examinations last summer, and the more recent decision of 7 January 2021 to close schools for up to three weeks from 11 January.

From Monday 11 January 2021, all students, are engaging in a programme of remote learning with their schools.

The public health restrictions which resulted in the closure of schools in March 2020 highlighted the absolute necessity for schools to be agile in providing for continuity of schooling in the future. As a contingency measure against the possibility of partial or full school closures, my Department has already provided a suite of guidance materials, agreed with the education partners, to enable schools to mediate the curriculum safely for all pupils/students in a Covid-19 context. These are available at

Last August, I announced a series of changes that would be made to assessment arrangements for both Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate examinations for 2021. This announcement was accompanied by a published document detailing these changes, Assessment Arrangements for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate Examinations 2021, and forms part of the Roadmap for the Full Return to School.

On Monday 21 December 2020, the Department published an updated version of the publication.

These changes to the national assessment arrangements were made with due regard for the principles of equity, fairness and integrity, as these principles apply to assessment and examinations and refer to student to-student, subject-to-subject, and year-to-year comparisons over time. The changes provide reassurance to students, their parents/guardians, teachers and schools.

In addition, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) has published the revised arrangements for Classroom-Based Assessments for students entering third year in 2020. Details are available at

Other documents published by my Department to support the return to school include Guidance for Practical Subjects in Post-Primary Schools and Centres for Education and Returning to school: Guidance on learning and school programmes for post primary school leaders and teachers. These documents provide guidance for teachers and schools that is specific to each practical subject area, so that students can be facilitated to actively engage with their learning. All documentation published is available on