All third year students are to be awarded certificates for the completion of the Junior Cycle by the Department of Education and Skills under new measures announced today.

Following a meeting with education partners, Minister for Education Joe McHugh has also confirmed that schools will be given autonomy to assess students as they see fit and all students are to receive a report on achievement.

Adult learners will be given the opportunity to take final Junior Cycle examinations in the autumn.

The decision to formally abandon previous plans for schools to assess students through exams in the autumn was taken following recommendations from an advisory group of stakeholders who met this morning.

Mr McHugh said: "In this difficult time for students I have listened to the very strongly held and well-articulated views of students, parents and other stakeholders.

"This decision has been made with the health and well-being of students, parents and teachers at the forefront of our thinking.

"It gives students and their families more clarity and certainty. It also gives schools freedom to decide how best to assess the progress of students following three years of hard work and learning."

Last week, a number of schools announced that they would not be complying with the original plan to replace the cancelled Junior Certificate exams with autumn school-based tests.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland and the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland have welcomed today's decision, saying it provides clarity for students.

TUI President Seamus Lahart said the approach taken is informed by principles of fairness and equity.

ASTI President Deirdre MacDonald expressed regret that this year's Junior Certificate students would not have the opportunity to sit exams as normal, but said the pressure of having to do so "would have imposed unnecessary stress" on the students involved.

Asked whether the revised plan for Junior Certificate students amounted to the kind of predicted grades system that many Leaving Certificate students were clamouring for, Minister McHugh said that you could not compare the two.

He said the new Junior Cycle programme, unlike the Leaving Certificate programme, included strong elements of continuous assessment.

Mr McHugh said the focus for the Leaving Cert remained on holding exams beginning on 29 July, but the minister reiterated that this was dependent on the future public health picture.

Declining to rule out the prospect of predicted grades at Leaving Cert level, he said that all contingencies were being examined.

Mr McHugh said that any minister who gave a guarantee on anything in the current unpredictable climate would be "living in a fool's paradise".

Earlier this month, the department announced that Junior Cycle students would sit exams in the autumn drawn up by the State Examinations Commission.

The SEC was not going to be involved in either running the exams nor marking or certifying them. But there was widespread acceptance that the intended model was unworkable.

There was no way of ensuring that students would not become aware of the content of papers in advance, given that schools were to hold them on different dates.

There was also concern at the difficulties and disruption for schools running such exams in the new school year and at the fact that 15 and 16-year-old students would have the exams hanging over them over the summer months.

Schools will be free to decide whether to hold online tests for students in coming weeks or to award marks based on work already completed.

There is concern, however, around the relatively small number of students who leave school prior to their Leaving Certificate exams and who may need a Junior Certificate qualification or equivalent to progress to other courses, including apprenticeships.

Around 3,700, or 6%, of third year students do not go on to complete their Leaving Certificate.

The minimum requirement for acceptance on an apprenticeship programme for instance requires a Junior Certificate or equivalent qualification.