Teachers' unions are calling on members to engage with proposals to have students return to their classrooms for several weeks in July ahead of the Leaving Certificate exams. 

The decision to postpone the examinations has been welcomed by school management bodies, but many students have concerns and aired their worries across social media.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh has said that everything will be done to help the most vulnerable students. 

He said: "There is a meeting next week with Department officials and unions. In relation to the hard-to-reach students, we have a continuity-of-education team set up in the Department. 

"We're going to continue to work with the patron bodies to ensure that those students will be facilitated." 

Teachers' unions have broadly welcomed the decision to delay the exams, but say several questions remain unanswered.

General-Secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland, Kieran Christie, said there are issues around the management of project work that remain outstanding. 

Mr Christie said: "We also have concerns about equity and the disparity of provision that's been available to students since the closure of schools. 

"We have concerns around special needs students and whether appropriate arrangements can be made to accommodate them. And we're also sceptical that practical exams can be held with appropriate social distancing."

General-Secretary of the Teachers' Union of Ireland John MacGabhann said members were being asked to engage with the proposal on a "whole school basis". 

He said the most important thing is that unions act in solidarity with the community in the current crisis. 

"The over-riding consideration has to be the health of the community, including students and their families. 

"The Leaving Cert  is the best measure of student achievement available to us. We welcome the Minister's decision. While there's a delay involved, it maintains the integrity of both the learning and the assessment process for students."

The Department of Education will be taking advice from public health officials about reopening schools for two weeks before the Leaving Cert begins. 

Mr McHugh said a start date and schedule for the exams will be announced by the first week in June.

Emeritus Professor of Education at University College Cork Aine Hyland said that postponing the Leaving Cert was the right decision and the only realistic option in the circumstances. 

She advised students to take a break over Easter and re-examine their study schedules for the coming months. 

Ms Hyland said: "They have an extra six to eight weeks. It's not ideal of course, but they now have a fairly good idea of what's going to happen."

She expressed concern about students who are already disadvantaged. 

"There may be ways in which the marking of the exams can take account of that. 

"There are ways that third-level institutions can also take account of that and maybe increase the quota of places for young people who have suffered disadvantage. 

"At the moment, 6% of all places are given to students from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. That could be increased, and the definition of 'disadvantaged' could be changed."