Students might have been required to wear face masks and have daily temperature checks if the Leaving Certificate exams had gone ahead this summer.

The State Examinations Commission revealed the plans in a briefing given to the Minister for Education as part of deliberations as to whether or not to proceed with the exams.

In an assessment of how summer exams might be conducted the SEC outlined a timetable that saw the exams running for over a month, beginning on 29 July and running until 5 September, with just one exam per day.

It warned that this 32 day timetable carried the risk of "diminishing attendance by students and school staff".

The SEC outlined a complex series of challenges, beginning with the fact that students would most likely not be able to use public transport to get to and from their schools to sit the exams.

It expressed concern that students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those without parental support would be especially affected by this.

The exams body painted a picture in which students would be spread out sparsely across school buildings, with just 40 students occupying spacious gyms which under ordinary circumstances would hold dozens more.

Using the phrase "military precision" it referred to the need for strict queuing systems and movement patterns, routes to centres mapped out, as well as staggered arrival times for students. It asked were these measure "achievable".

The SEC warned that holding the exams would be "extremely challenging for students, school authorities and the SEC."


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It expressed particular concern that holding the exams would in its opinion increase anxiety and stress levels "on an already stressed student body".

In a reference to the potential for student anxiety levels to spill over into panic it asked "Might any coughing or sneezing (e.g. hay fever) disrupt the session?"

In a document seen by RTÉ News the SEC expressed concern that it would not be possible to ensure that students maintained strict social distancing.

In a long list of questions it asked was it "realistic" to expect students not to congregate and mix before and after the exams.

"Are the measures for avoiding congregation flashpoints achievable in all contexts?" it asked. "What happens if students are mingling or there is horseplay?"

The document also questioned what would happen if a student or superintendent fell ill after an exam had begun.

"Can the session continue?" it asks. "What about remainder of the exams in that centre?"

It queried what arrangements might be possible for students unable to attend exams due to bereavement or illness, and it asked whether it was realistic to expect to be able to accommodate immunocompromised or at risk students.

The SEC also warned that attempts to minimise health risks would expose the process to "greatly increased security and integrity risks", and would require "a complete re-engineering and reconfiguration of tried and tested methods for the secure distribution of exam papers to schools and students."

It also queried whether it would be able to employ enough superintendents and attendants to staff the complex operation.

It questioned whether older teachers would make themselves available, and whether the teen students who normally work as attendants would withdraw from the work, possibly upon the wishes of their parents.

It questioned what the "further impact" might be if public heath advice was to limit the time spent in an examination centre each day.

On the day that the Government announced the postponement of the exams to the summer the State Examinations Commission, in a statement, said it would make every effort to run the exams "as close to normal as possible."

In this presentation to the minister less than weeks later the SEC did not make any direct recommendation to the minister, but in a telling comment it concluded (and the capitalisation is theirs) "As Close to Normal as Possible is nothing close to normal."

Decision on Leaving Cert welcomed by universities

Dublin City University President Professor Brian MacCraith said universities very much welcome the Leaving Cert decisions taken on Friday, saying they provide certainty and reduce stress for students. 

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, he said universities trust the calculated grade system and have been very impressed by the rigor that has gone into the model and said we must trust the professionalism of teachers. 

Professor MacCraith also said it will not be possible to hold large lectures when universities re-open and dual mode/hybrid approaches are being examined.

This would involve small tutorial groups but, for at least a semester, "you’re talking about online" for larger groups. 

He said in 200 seat tiered theatre, there are just 38 usable seats when social distancing is applied.

Prof MacCraith said the overall college experience for students will change and efforts are being made to optimise the student experience, because it is a huge part of the developmental experience for them.

The President of Maynooth University said the system devised to calculate grades "will serve students well".

Professor Philip Nolan said the vast majority of students will be happy that the grades fully reflect their performance and they will proceed onto third level.

He said it is anticipated "a near to normal" first year cohort of students will begin their studies in late September or early October at the university.

Prof Nolan said that having calculated grades is "absolutely the right decision made at the right time".