Cancelling the Leaving Cert: ‘I can finally breathe’

Readers share their views on plans to cancel the 2020 Leaving Certificate in favour of predictive grading

The Leaving Certificate Exam has been postponed and pupils will be offered the option of receiving calculated grades, Minister for Education Joe McHugh has announced. Video: RTE News Now

 

After months of uncertainty it has emerged that the 2020 Leaving Certificate examinations are set to be cancelled. Students will be awarded predictive grades based on their classwork instead and those students who are unhappy with their graded results may be able to sit the exams at a later stage. We asked readers for their views. The following is a selection of the responses we received.

Caoimhe Culleton, County Dublin
My eldest daughter who is 19 was to sit her Leaving Cert this June. She has a love of the Irish language and had visited the Gaeltacht for the past 6 years so the first blow was the cancellation of the orals. The second blow comes today she has not stopped studying despite lockdown- up every morning hitting the books with a drive I respect and admire. Her school exams and mocks produced average results - the exams were an opportunity to move the grades up a notch - that is now lost. Her chance to go to Trinity does not seem achievable - I think the students most affected are the middle group who may have been borderline with their grades but needed higher points for their desired course. In addition, will the likes of the grind schools give all of their students H1’s to ensure success on the school league table? Where will be the fairness? But today we want closure- we are exhausted with the bickering of the politicians trying to score points with populist views - I am sad today with this outcome and the lost opportunity for so many students.

Aimee Cosgrove, County Dublin
I am extremely pleased with the cancellation of the Leaving Cert. Throughout my school career I have suffered with high anxiety due to having autism and generalised anxiety disorder. This anxiety has always spiked around exams and I have never performed to my full capacity. As you can imagine, my anxiety has been sky-high through the lockdown and there hasn’t been a time where I have taken a full deep breath and relaxed. The constant upset stomach has worn me down and I have recently barely managed to do one piece of work a day. I was reaching my breaking point and I could not continue for two more months. News of the cancellation has lifted a weight off of my shoulders. I can finally breathe and enjoy family time without the guilt of not studying. Now I feel as if all my hard work over the past two years will be accounted for and I will get the grades I deserve. I think they are choosing the fairest option that will help improve the mental health of students all over the country.

Mary Brennan
I’m a repeat student. I’ve only been in my school a few months. Predicted grades are the worst outcome for me. I can’t repeat again and they’re saying you won’t be able to sit exams until 2021.

Marta Solli, Cork
I personally think that using predictive grades is a much fairer choice. I worked hard for two years and I think that all my effort and hard work should be considered. Cancelling the Leaving Cert will definitely ease the stress all students are experiencing at the moment. We need to keep in mind that many sixth-year students might be stressed out for many reasons other than the exams. For example, I am an exchange student who spent the last two years in Ireland staying with a host family. My family lives in Italy, a country devastated by the coronavirus. I am, of course stressed out because of the whole situation beyond just the Leaving Cert. I live in a foreign country without my parents at the age of 17 and knowing that my relatives are in danger breaks my heart. I haven’t seen my parents in months and the only thing I want is to go home and spend time with them. Students who are not happy with their predicted grades will be free to sit the exams. Being able to choose means everyone will do what they think it’s best for them.

Matthew Gardner, County Clare
Somewhat disappointing that the Leaving Cert has been taken out of my hands. However, it seemed to me that this is the option that the majority of students I know had hoped for. The prospect of further delays and the air of uncertainty around the exams was causing a lot of stress for students.  Although I am not completely happy with the decision made, I understand that this was the best option and not everyone was going to be happy no matter what is decided. Despite its flaws I do believe this is the correct decision considering the circumstances of Covid-19.

Kyle Murphy: “I believe that any decision made today will be a step in the right direction for this years exam.”
Kyle Murphy: “I believe that any decision made today will be a step in the right direction for this years exam.”

Kyle Murphy, Cork
I believe that any decision made today will be a step in the right direction for this year’s exam. Being a sixth year student I am acutely aware of the stress and pressure that we experienced which has only increased with the global pandemic. I think that a predicted grades system would be the best way for the Leaving Cert this year as it minimises the risk of infection for 60 thousand students along with countless superintendents and staff. It also takes into account the mental health of the students after months of uncertainty.

Damien Sloan, County Waterford
My son is really upset. He studied hard all along and wanted his Leaving Cert mark based on exams as that’s what they had almost two years to prepare for it The not-so-conscientious ones want predicted grades as they haven’t done the work. All his friends want to sit the exams too.

Daniel Reade, Dublin
My name is Daniel and I’m a current Leaving Cert student. I haven’t had the most stereotypical journey through secondary level education, missing 1st and 2nd year due to a physical illness, and homeschooled for all of 3rd year. I have been attending school for 5th and 6th year but my attendance has varied from weeks of absence to half days. Again this is due to an ongoing physical illness and on top of that the stress and anxiety caused by the uncertainty of the current crisis, it is hindering my ability to focus at home. Thankfully my physical health is improving and I am able to put a lot more work into my studies than previous months. I think the Government has made the right decision in the best interest of the country’s physical health with the proposed cancellation of the exams. But it does leave me wondering what a fair alternative would be. I personally am anxious as I haven’t been fully present for a lot of my time in secondary school, missing class tests and some exams. So my question to the Government is how are teachers going to fairly predict the grades of students like myself who haven’t been able to prove their capabilities throughout the last few years? Although this is a serious worry for me, all I want at the moment is clarity and certainty on the situation and for something to be sent in stone. I don’t envy the position of the Government in this present time but students have been waiting too long for decisions to be made that could affect their whole lives. Hopefully a plan of action will be decided upon in the coming days.

Harry Willis
I think that everyone should be given their first CAO preference. I know that would mean a lot of people who should not get their course will but at the end of the day if you’re not able for your course then you can’t blame the government. This way colleges still get fees, everyone is happy that they got their course and there will be no lengthy lawsuits taken against the government that the predicted grade received was wrong. It will only be a once off thing for a once off crisis.

Sylvia Hart, County Dublin
I don’t agree with predicted grades because how am I going to redeem myself without sitting the exam? I have been studying during quarantine and have improved so much. So when the results come out I wouldn’t be happy. And I’m not comfortable with the fact that my future is in the hands of a teacher. It is only the brightest students that want predicted grades because they know they would do well. I would say give students the option of sitting the exam or opting for predictive grades in July.

Éabha Hughes, County Dublin
The cancellation of exams was necessary, that much is clear. The majority of people wanted them replaced with predicted grades. However, there is still a minority that wanted the exams to go ahead - and they should be given the opportunity to do so. Sitting the exams if they don’t want their predicted grades should be an option. This can be done by following social distancing measures in August, especially seeing as there will over 75 per cent fewer students taking the exams, and with enough time to correct so everyone can start third level together. Pushing the re-sits out to as late as early 2021 is almost like punishing the students. I don’t understand why the Government can’t listen to what the students actually want - yes we want predicted grades, but we don’t want to see those unhappy left in the dust either. I don’t know if people have forgotten, but this is the biggest year of many of our lives so far, and with the emphasis put on the Leaving Cert throughout our young lives there is no doubt that some people are distraught and inconsolable over this decision.

Barry Quinn, County Dublin
I’m doing my Leaving Cert this summer and I’m an external candidate. Where does the decision leave me because I am not assessed on anything? I am not attending college, just sitting the exam on the day.

Stephanie Murray
While I believe that a system of predicted grades will be suitable in the vast majority of cases, there are a significant number of students who would be assessed on less than a years’ work- those repeating the leaving cert, those who missed fifth year due to illness, and those who transferred to grind schools for sixth year. For these students, it is imperative that exams take place, and preferably as soon as possible. Since the numbers of students opting to receive a predicted grade will significantly lower the number choosing to take an exam, it should not be impossible to hold socially distanced exams, in August, for example. This would enable those students who cannot rely on predicted grades to begin college this year. For those repeating the Leaving Cert, waiting until 2021 to begin their courses is demoralising and unfair.

Leslie Hammond, County Dublin
Am despairing at who is making the decisions with regard to the Leaving Cert. It makes no sense to have an option to sit at a much later date. Predicted results should easily be out by middle/end June with those that aren’t happy sitting on 29th July. This is not rocket science! If a restaurant can open using socially distancing measures, exams can be held. The playing field needs to be level and fair, which won’t happen if some students aren’t happy with predicted grades and are expected to sit around for another 6/9 months before doing the Leaving Cert. Never mind the fact that it will just be adding more pressure on places next year as they will be competing with the current 5th years. Am despairing at who is running the show vis-à-vis the Leaving Cert.

Ann Marie O’Dwyer
At long last the students’ voice has been heard. Since 12th March when schools closed the Leaving Cert was compromised. The list of problems were endless, my daughter has been working hard since 5th year towards the exams in June, then suddenly online classes which didn’t happen. She only had one teacher who came on at class time to do her class. Teachers sent videos, most sent homework. She had four subjects not completed on 12th March including honours Maths, Physics, Geography and English. Teachers didn’t contact their students, didn’t correct homework. It became very disheartening but she continued on. Mr Varadkar’s “by hook or by crook” statement really upset her and she hoped that the Department of Education would clarify matters but things only got worse. At that stage she believed the only option was cancellation of the exam and predicted grades so she and her class could continue with their lives.

Danielle Clarke, County Dublin
This is highly irresponsible in the absence of the actual detail of the plan

Eilisha Downes
I am a Leaving Cert student and I think that the idea is brilliant and should have been done ages ago. All of this going back and forth, will it/won’t it, is unhelpful for students, teachers, parents and anyone else who might be involved. While I do agree with the cancellation, I am worried about my education next year as I am hoping to start a PLC in Galway this September but because of Covid-19 I never got the chance to interview which should have been held mid-May. I am grateful to my teachers and the hard working men and women across the board who have helped to make my Leaving Cert year as close to normal as possible. They have all put in a huge amount of work and I am thankful (just don’t tell my teachers)

Ryan Kelly, County Cork
I am a Leaving Cert student and I believe that, although it’s not ideal, cancelling the Leaving Cert was the best option. We find ourselves in a situation that has never been seen before and in these extraordinary circumstances exceptions to the normal Leaving Cert should be expected. The pandemic has caused hardship and challenges for millions around the world. I don’t think it would have been possible, or at least feasible, to hold exams while the pandemic continued. There were too many possible problems that could not be accounted for and risking the health of our most vulnerable was not worth it when there were other options available. Furthermore I have great faith in our hardworking teachers across the country that they will provide fair results for their students. I feel an immense pressure lifted from me now that I can rest assured the work I’ve put in over the last two years will be accounted for and I do not have to carry the pressure until late July.

Megan Ní Laighin
The amount of stress this alternative will lift from students nationwide is simply phenomenal. I wouldn’t feel remotely comfortable participating in contact classes for two weeks prior to written exams seeing as both of my parents have underlying conditions. Overall, provided a reasonable alternative can be out in place, canceling the written Leaving Certificate exams in July is undoubtedly the right decision.