This year's Leaving Certificate examinations have been postponed until late July or August.

The State Junior Certificate exams have been cancelled and will be replaced by school based assessments and school exams early in the coming academic year.

The Department of Education says the decisions have been made based on advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team.

Schools are to remain closed until further notice.

The deadline for submission of Leaving Certificate practical and other projects, in subjects such has History, Geography, Art, PE and Construction, has also been rescheduled for an as yet to be decided date later in the summer.

Details as to this year's Leaving Certificate timetable will be confirmed in early June, when there is likely to be a clearer picture as to the kind of public health concerns - such as social distancing requirements - that will need to be taken into account.

Final arrangements on scheduling and other details related to the examinations will be determined by the State Examinations Commission then.

At a briefing today, Minister for Education Joe McHugh said the department had engaged with third level institutions and that they had adopted a position of flexibility and have indicated that they will work with the new timeline.

He also said his department was coordinating with third level authorities in Northern Ireland and the UK.

Minister McHugh said that the school year wasn't over, though there is currently no date for schools to re-open, it is a possibility.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Minister McHugh said department officials will now work with the State Examinations Commission with a view to publishing a timetable for the Leaving Certificate in the first week of June.

He said this timetable will be shaped by public health advice.

Mr McHugh said officials looked at the viability of introducing a predicted grading system for Leaving Certificate students this year but felt it was not possible.

He said Ireland does not have a standardised system that would enable fairness.

Mr McHugh said some teachers grade harder than others.

He also said that teaching unions displayed a "willingness and goodwill" to try make sure the Leaving Cert happens during meetings this week.

While agreement around the new exams has not been reached, initial indications are positive, he said.

He added the SEC will also be asked to reflect the "new circumstances" we face when looking at potential changes that may need to be made in terms of the papers.

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The Department of Education believes proceeding with delaying the exams in this way is the fairest way to manage the transition this year from second level education into third level or further education and training or the world of work. 

The department hopes the postponement will give students time to prepare for their examinations, and will alleviate stress as much as possible.

The intention is to give Leaving Certificate students at least two weeks of class time in school with their teachers before the exams take place.

Discussions have yet to take place between the Department of Education and the teacher unions as to how this might be worked out, but a spokesperson for the department said there had been "positive engagement" with the unions on the decision so far.

The postponement of the Leaving Certificate will have knock-on effects on the start of the new school year and on the start of the college year for first year students.

Discussions as to the logistical details and timing of school based Junior Cycle exams will take place with the teacher unions and school managers.

The intention is that the college entry CAO process will operate as close as possible to its usual late summer timeframe.

There are many details that have yet to be worked out, including the new college entry date for first years.

The Department of Education has asked the Higher Education Authority to look at ways to increase access for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or have special educational needs this year.

There are currently more than 3000 students in these categories who have enrolled on courses with points below the general requirement.

The Teachers Union of Ireland said it would "ask members to engage in this process as a whole-school response to meet the needs of our students".

The Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland said it had "serious concerns" about elements of the Government's plans. 

Earlier today, in a joint statement the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, Education and Training Boards Ireland , Joint Managerial Body and National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals  said the "appreciate the clarity brought by today's announcement regarding the state examinations."

They added they "look forward to engaging further with the Department of Education and Skills to work through the operational details of this announcement over the coming weeks".

A body representing secondary school students has said they are disappointed with the level of uncertainty that remains following this afternoon's announcement about the Leaving Cert by the Minister for Education.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, the Deputy President of the Irish Second-Level Students' Union Chloe Griffin said she appreciates that a decision has been made to postpone the exams but is disappointed there is still questions there.

She said students want clarity around issues like how CAO applications will work and logistics around coursework.

Ms Griffin also said the organisation is concerned about the mental health and stress levels of students.

She also said they would prefer if class-based teaching resumed before the exams took place, adding that the two weeks proposed by the Minister is not adequate.

Ms Griffin also pointed to a "disparity" between the resources available to students who are studying remotely.