Last resort or happy ending?
Incidents of end-of-term ‘high jinks’ have led to a number of Leaving Cert students being thrown out of schools in recent weeks, but the issue has divided teachers and parents
IT HAPPENS EVERY YEAR. Classes finish, exams are nigh and sixth-year students, high on freedom and stress, decide that one last blowout is in order. After all, teachers can’t touch them now, can they?
It’s the kind of atmosphere that can lead to students organising a rave in their common room and padlocking it from the inside, as happened last week at the High School in Rathgar, Dublin 6. Subsequent “exchanges” with senior school staff, as well as reported “slagging” of teachers on Facebook, made matters worse.
In 2010, there were 148 expulsions and more than 14,000 suspensions in Irish schools. Leaving Cert indiscipline is often tolerated as seasonal high jinks. But this time the school decided a line had been crossed. The organisers of the rave were identified. Their parents were telephoned and informed of their expulsion. The High School finished classes early, and the graduation ceremony was cancelled. The expelled students will have to sit their exams at an alternative exam centre.
Expulsion is an emotive issue. Authorities at the High School have come under pressure to reconsider their decision. At a meeting last Sunday, parents expressed anger at the perceived heavy-handedness of the authorities, and concern at the impact of events on the students who are about to sit exams.
There has been much debate surrounding schools’ use of severe discipline at this time of year, but one principal of a large school believes they have little choice, even in the run-up to exams. “Schools have to be strategic about this sort of thing,” he says. “If you don’t take a strong stance, things can build.”
Disciplinary decisions vary from school to school. St Joseph’s CBS in Nenagh dealt with four streakers, who showed up at a school sports event wearing nothing but Afro wigs, by requiring them to sit their Leaving Cert at another exam centre.
“Look, students who find themselves in these situations should get the books out and get down to some serious study,” says Pat King, general secretary of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland. “If students have to go to school A as opposed to school B in order to sit their exams, it’s a pity, but it’s not the end of the world.” Indeed, there is often a “prisoner exchange” of sorts between exam centres in these cases. Students are unlikely to be left floundering.
Details of two further incidents, one at Mount Anville and the other at St Mary’s College, both prominent schools in south Dublin, also emerged this week. Five sixth-year Mount Anville girls tied up a fifth-year student and drove her to the grounds of Blackrock College, where she was found, extremely distressed, some time later.
The St Mary’s boys, in a similar incident, bundled a schoolmate into a car and drove him to Muckross Park College, in Donnybrook, where he was found tied to a tree. The Garda got involved when a concerned witness to the abduction raised the alarm. Reports of a Garda helicopter being scrambled were unfounded.
It is believed that the sanctions for these incidents have stopped short of expulsion. The five students involved in the Mount Anville bullying were forbidden to attend their graduation and prize-giving ceremony. Details of further measures taken, if any, are unknown.