Alternative options for school leavers

This year’s school leavers are entering the ‘real world’ amid the most extraordinary circumstances

The end of secondary school marks the beginning of a journey into further education for many as new paths are opened up towards eventually entering the labour market. Photograph: Getty

Leaving school might be an exciting time for many but it can also be overwhelming for others. The end of secondary level marks the beginning of a journey into further education for many as they begin a new phase in their lives that will culminate with them joining the labour market.

Naturally enough, many will feel nervous and anxious as they begin the transition but it is worth remembering that leaving school has always brought with it a degree of uncertainty. After all, decisions are taken at this time that will directly influence the lives of students for decades to come.

Then there is Covid-19. It is true that this year’s school-leavers are entering the “real world” amid the most extraordinary circumstances. School leavers have already missed out directly and indirectly as a result of the pandemic.

Schools were closed in March and exams were postponed before being cancelled. Class farewells, end-of-school parties and holiday plans were cancelled as were any plans to work for the summer.


As the economic damage wreaked by the virus remains unknown, this year’s school leavers are facing into an uncertain period in the months and years ahead.

Economic stagnation

There is no clear vision just yet of what the economy will look like once the crisis passes but warnings of economic stagnation are stark.

Some say the virus will be with us for years but there are also hopes that a vaccine will be found sooner rather than later. Whatever the outcome, one thing seems certain, that is that the impact of the virus will be with us for many years to come.

Navigating such severe disruption as the abrupt postponement and subsequent cancellation of exams while also contending with the dangers of a potentially lethal virus will have had a profound impact on many.

Yet a lot has already been learned from this experience. This year’s cohort has already had a very different experience to those who completed the Leaving Certificate in the preceding years and as a result, they will be better prepared to meet the challenges and requirements of the path they choose to take.

Additional supports have been provided to help deal with the expected fallout and education providers are trying their best to accommodate prospective students.

Readers’ queries

Expert guidance counsellors Brian Howard and Deirdre Garrett will be on hand on this week to answer queries readers may have about the Leaving Cert results, CAO and Further Education and Training.

Due to the cancellation of the Leaving Cert most Post-Leaving Cert (PLC) courses, which generally follow the academic year, will have an intake in October. (For students considering this path – apply direct to colleges or through

ETBI is the national representative body for Ireland's 16 Education and Training Boards. ETBI training centres offer a wide range of training courses and are located around the country. (For students considering this path visit

Details of FE courses on offer in Ireland are also available through QQI's website.

In this supplement we look at alternative career routes school leavers can take, examine workplace training options, apprenticeship opportunities and what Further Education Colleges have to offer in the Covid-19 era.

We profile the work of Solas, the body responsible for funding, planning and co-ordinating FET programmes, and feature the inspirational story of Stephanie Thompson whose life has been transformed by further education.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.