Leaving Cert history is being made as work gets under way on a process of calculating grades for 61,000 candidates in place of the traditional summer written exams.
A last-minute skirmish over the strength of a state-backed indemnity to protect teachers in the event of a legal challenge by a disgruntled student was sorted yesterday, clearing the way for all-round engagement.
Instead of final preparations for state exams next month, or continuing their studies in anticipation of a delayed start in late July/ August, candidates can register with an online system, which will open on Tuesday.
While a student may ultimately decide not to receive calculated grades, they will be awarded in all subjects to all candidates.
Schools will ask sixth-year students, including those doing the Leaving Cert Applied, to register on the online portal, where those who are doing the traditional Leaving Cert will also be provided with the opportunity to confirm the level at which they want to be assessed.
Over the next couple of weeks, teachers and schools will undertake the unprecedented job of providing estimated marks and class rankings for candidates for a state exam.
Principals will send the data to the Department of Education, where it will go through a national standardisation process leading to the production of calculated grades, to be released around the usual time for Leaving Cert results.
The Department of Education has provided guidelines for teachers/schools on how to approach the process of estimating marks and giving each student a class ranking.
The guidance was produced after painstaking consultation with representatives of teacher unions, principals, school management bodies and parents and students, and came with a legal indemnity for teachers and schools.
The indemnity was understood to have been accepted by all involved, so there was surprise some hours after the publication of the guidance on Thursday when the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) announced that it fell short.
The union advised its members not to co-operate in the calculated grades process until it received the necessary assurances.
ASTI general secretary Kieran Christie said the union was concerned that members might be liable for up to one-third of legal costs in the event of a challenge, and cited stenographers and expert witnesses as the sort of expenses they would need to be sure would be covered.
After intensive contacts between the union, the department and legal advisers, the ASTI said yesterday that it had secured "full indemnity" and cleared the way for co-operation by its members.
The clarification from the department provided an assurance that the "legal expenses" referred to in the indemnity include all reasonable costs arising from the defence of civil proceedings, including reasonable expert witness costs and stenographer costs, as advised by the Attorney General.
The ASTI said the department had also given an undertaking "that in all cases where the indemnity applies, the Chief State Solicitor's Office will take over the running of the litigation".
The other post-primary teachers' union, the Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI), had accepted the legal indemnity and, while it also sought certain clarifications, was happy yesterday for its members to start engaging with the calculated grades process.