Students, parents, and colleges have been left scrambling as the fallout from the decision to delay publishing this year's Leaving Certificate results added to the chaos and confusion engulfing the education sector.
Despite attempts by Norma Foley, Minister for Education, and Simon Harris, Minister for Further Education, to play down the knock-on effects, there is growing anger and frustration over a lack of clarity as the start of the academic year looms.
This year's Leaving Cert results will be published on September 7, three weeks later than usual, and only four days before first round CAO offers are sent out. Second round offers will be issued to students on September 23.
From Monday, students can opt-in to receive calculated grades, this year's alternative assessment model after this summer's exams were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 450,000 individual results have to be prepared and checked before September 7.
In the face of growing criticism, Minister Foley defended her decision claiming the delay is required to keep the integrity of the system intact.
"It was not feasible or possible for the traditional Leaving Cert to take place," Ms Foley said.
"It is hugely important to me that the integrity of the calculated grades for the class of 2020 will have a similar integrity to the Leaving Cert of 2019 or 2018."
When asked if colleges and universities might consider pushing back commencement dates to facilitate students, Ms Foley said she was confident that third-level institutions would make arrangements about start dates.
However, students and parents are still in the dark about the implications of the unprecedented move with confusion around:
- the timing of the appeals process, which is due to open for applications on September 14
- securing accommodation before the beginning of college
- the arrangements for students who opt to sit the exams if they are not happy with their results
The seven universities represented by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) expressed “surprise” and “disappointment” with the decision.
They have been forced to begin “actively revising” plans for receiving first-year students this year and warned it may not be possible for first-year students to attend induction and orientation ahead of the main body of students due to this delay.
The Union of Students Ireland (USI) and the Irish Second-Level Students' Union both expressed frustration with how the announcement has been handled.
Many students have raised concerns about the financial implications this could have, according to the ISSU.
"We expect the department to work to address and find remedies to these impacts so students may progress to the next stages of their lives," a spokesperson said.
The USI fears this delay could have implications for all students, and called for immediate clarity around start-dates.
"Students just don’t know what is happening. We need to know when the new year will start," said Lorna Fitzpatrick, USI president.
Last night, Simon Harris moved to reassure students that grant payments will not be affected, and SUSI remains open to applications.
"I also wish to assure people we are doing everything we can to get our third level sector up and running," he said.
"The public health officials are working with the Department to finalise guidance for the sector."
Labour's education spokesman Aodhan Ó Riordan has called on Norma Foley to return to the Dáil to answer further questions on the matter.
Sinn Féin’s education spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the minister has not got to grips with the growing sense of chaos in her department. He also hit out that there is still no published plan on re-opening schools next month.
“There is no roadmap, there is no funding. She is missing her own department’s timetable. She came into the Dáil to discuss her revised estimate but with no clarity of what is needed.
"She is only three weeks into her role but she has not got to grips with the scale of the crisis,” he said.