Minister for Education Norma Foley has confirmed that Leaving Cert students will have the option of a calculated grade, or a written exam in each subject.

The Cabinet Sub-Committee signed off on the proposal this afternoon, which would see students receive one set of results at the end of the process.

Students will be able to choose to receive calculated grades in all subjects, to be issued to them at the same time as the examination results.

The Government hopes the proposal will act as an incentive to get students to sit the written exam.

The Junior Certificate exams have been cancelled.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told a meeting of his Parliamentary Party tonight that "the start of March" is likely to be the date for the phased reopening of schools. 

Mr Martin also said that Leaving Cert students and 5th year students, as well as junior infants, senior infants and 1st class students, were under consideration. 

The start date for the phased reopening of schools will be regularly evaluated to assess the impact on virus prevalence in the community. 

It is understood that this would mean a return from 1 March. 

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Read more:
Early Years' classes considered for phased school reopening 

Non-exam assessments, such as orals and practicals will also go ahead this year, but with certain aspects not running due to public health requirements.

The Leaving Certificate exams will run in the normal time of June subject to public health advice.

They will include adjustments that were introduced last year and early this year. These adjustments offer students more choice in exam questions.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One, Ms Foley said that students now have "clarity and choice" as a result of the format, which has been agreed with unions.

She said the calculated grades will be overseen by the State Examination Commission, which gives it status.

Ms Foley said it is hoped that oral exams will take place over two days during the Easter break, and that written exams will begin on 9 June, subject to public health conditions at that time.

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She said Government will have a "cautious" return to school for Leaving Cert students in early March, but that requires the approval of public health advice.

The combined approach is being adopted because the department believes it would be unfair to require students to sit exams where a sizeable portion of their senior cycle education has been negatively affected by the pandemic.

The Department of Education has said it is imperative that results be issued in a timely manner to allow students to progress to the next level.

The calculated grades to be offered will be similar to last year, but it is planned that they will be administered by the State Examinations Commission.

It is understood that legislation will be drawn up to, if possible, prohibit the release of the ranking of students carried out by teachers for the purpose of awarding calculated grades.

The legislation will also enable the State Examinations Commission to award calculated grades, and also to prohibit the canvassing of teachers by students or any person on their behalf. Legislation is also planned to provide indemnity for teachers, schools and school patrons.

The department said that the drafting of this legislation will be accorded the highest priority. A procurement process will be run for coding and psychometric expertise.

Like last year, this year's calculated grades process will entail a national standardisation process.

'Disappointed' ASTI to consult its members

The ASTI said it was disappointed with aspects of the calculated grades process.

It said it would consult its members and refer the minister's announcement to its executive.

In a statement this evening, the union said: "The ASTI is bitterly disappointed that this process is not underpinned in any way by externally validated elements such as coursework, projects etc.

"It is disappointing that the Department of Education were unwilling to allow such grounding data.

"SEC Accredited Grades will prove a very challenging proposition for all concerned given the lack of credible data.

"The unavailability of an option for students to undertake externally validated second components, coursework, project work, orals and aurals if they opt to choose the pathway of SEC Accredited Grades adds to this omission and is a regrettable injustice for these students."

The Teachers Union of Ireland said it had serious concerns about the plan. 

The TUI said that "the Minister's decision to apply marks awarded for oral and practical examinations only to the established Leaving Certificate process is regrettable and regressive". 

The union said: "Provision of a separate estimated mark in respect of the orals and practicals for the SEC Accredited Grade is a poor second best, albeit better than the absence of such a separate mark." 

The TUI said the "ongoing engagement with the Department and the State Examinations Commission in the coming days and weeks is essential" adding that it would now consult with its members and would "seek further clarifications, where necessary". 

Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire has said the choice and clarity around the exams is what students have fought for.

He said it was welcome that the Government "finally listened to the voice of students".

"The past few months have been extremely difficult for Leaving Cert students. They have faced incredible stress and they have faced enormous uncertainty due to constant delays in coming to a conclusion on what type of assessment would be used for this year's Leaving Cert."

Labour Education Spokesperson Aodhán Ó Ríordáin has raised significant concerns about the deal on the Leaving Cert announced by the minister. 

He said it appears from statements by the two teaching unions that neither have fully signed-off on the plan. 

He claimed that, once again, Ms Foley had "mishandled" matters by making an announcement without full agreement from education partners. 

He concluded: "We need to get this sorted as soon as possible." 

Social Democrats education spokesperson Gary Gannon has said his party welcomes the fact that leaving cert students "have finally been given a direction of how they will be assessed this year." 

"Politics has until this point failed this year group through a lack of contingency and poor communication, across the board now, the role of all stakeholders is identify problems early in this approach and seek to address them in a collaborative manner."

Reporting: Micheál Lehane and Emma O'Kelly