The Minister for Education has said that this year's Leaving Certificate exams will "potentially" begin on 29 July.

Speaking on an Instagram Live chat organised by youth organisation Spunout.ie, Joe McHugh said that his department was looking at starting the exams on a Wednesday, as is tradition, and his department was looking at 29 July. He said he would be confirming this date in a couple of days' time.

Spunout.ie said it received a "phenomenal" 1,300 emails from students with questions they wanted put to the minister.

The organisation said that "by far and away" the most common question related to why the Department of Education had not opted to cancel the exams in favour of using predicted grades. Four hundred students asked this question, according to Spunout.ie.

Mr McHugh said the department had looked at predicted grades, but had decided against them because there were "so many issues".  He said the advice they had received was that such a mechanism would be less fair.

"Because we don't have a standardised continuous assessment system, we felt that fairness would not have been at the heart of it," he said. 

Citing examples of teachers who may be faced with predicting marks for nieces, nephews, next door neighbours, or even their own sons or daughters, the minister said there was "too much inherent bias" in a predicted grades approach.

He said while some teachers may be "hard markers", another may be an "easy marker", and that students who might subsequently miss out on a third level course because of their points may blame the predicted grades that they received.

Mr McHugh said that details as to the actual structure of the exams and the timetable would be announced in the first week of June.

He said the overall public health picture would have to be taken into account.

This may have an impact on the duration of individual exams. Citing current public health advice that two hours is the maximum limit for people to congregate, "that would have an impact on the length of the papers", he said, if that advice, for example, was still current when the exams do take place.

Asked about the impact of the digital divide on students, the minister said he would announcing details shortly on an ICT support programme to help those affected. He said work was also being done on a wellbeing programme for students.

Mr McHugh said it would be late October before first years begin college this year. He said he understood unhappiness with the postponement of the Leaving Cert exams and said he was sorry that it had to be this way.