Leaving Cert students urged to reduce social contacts ahead of exams

Pupils with Covid-19 symptoms advised to self-isolate and not attend exams

Minister for Education Norma Foley meets  students and staff at  Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle to wish them well in the upcoming exams. Photograph: Maxwells

Minister for Education Norma Foley meets students and staff at Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle to wish them well in the upcoming exams. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Leaving Cert students and their families are being urged to take extra caution in the run-up to the exams to help minimise the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Minister for Education Norma Foley said students have done an “amazing job” in complying with public health measures so far and she has every confidence this will continue over the coming weeks.

She made the comments after official State Examinations Commission guidance to schools confirmed that students should not sit the exams if they have Covid-19 symptoms.

“I am very conscious that - particularly for the Leaving Certificate students - we are moving to a very critical period and we are advising them once again that they would be mindful, that they keep their social distance, wear masks, reduce contacts,” Ms Foley said.

“We’re extending that to family members, and to people they meet within the community; that there would be a heightened awareness and consciousness around the Leaving Certificate.

“But I have every confidence in them. I think we are very proud of all that has been achieved by young people in our schools and I’ve every confidence that they will continue to do what needs to be done.”

When asked if there were concerns that some students could be tempted to sit exams even if they should be self-isolating, Ms Foley said the vast majority of pupils have followed public health guidance to date.

Best practice

“On a daily basis, they’ve been advised not to come to schools if they have symptoms... They have, in the main, done that... This is a about reinforcing best practice around what they have been doing up to this point - and I have confidence that they will do that.”

Teachers, meanwhile, are due to begin the process of estimating their students’ marks as part of the new accredited grades system being introduced this year.

Under this model, students have the option of choosing an accredited grade or sitting them exam in each subject and being credited with the highest results.

When asked if she was concerned that this approach could result in even greater grade inflation than last year, Ms Foley said schools were being given clear guidance on how to approach marking their students.

Teachers and school leaders were very conscious of the need to ensure students are awarded “realistic” marks and the need for accurate information in the standardisation process, she said.

“I have every confidence that that process will operate as it should operate,” she said.

Ms Foley was speaking during a visit to Pobalscoil Neásain in Dublin 13, where she met sixth year students and staff.

Most sixth year students are due to finish their classes over the coming days and many schools are organising socially-distanced school graduation ceremonies.

‘Damp squib’

Principal Pat McKenna said there was a strange atmosphere in school with many students feeling anxious ahead of the start of the exams against the backdrop of the pandemic.

“You’re not sensing the normal end-of-school excitement. It’s a little bit of a damp squib. There’s anxiety about how it’s going to go, but having the accredited grades in the back pocket is giving many a level of confidence.”

On a positive note, he said, students have learned to become more independent learners due to the disruption to the school year, while the school has developed new ways of including students’ voices in the running of school.

Students and the Leaving Cert: ‘I’m feeling stressed and nervous... I’m worried Covid could disrupt everything’

Even in normal times the Leaving Cert is a stressful rite of passage for most students .

Uncertainty around whether Covid-19 cases could detail some students’ hopes of sitting the exams has added yet another layer of anxiety into the mix.

“I’m definitely worried,” says Cian Doran, a sixth year student at Pobalscoil Neásain. “It could disrupt everything, which is worrying, so I’m trying to reduce my social contacts.”

Student Karl Fitzpatrick is planning to sit all his written exams to ensure he maximises his chances of gaining CAO points, but the pressure is taking its toll

“The exams are stressful enough as it is. To have the added issue of Covid on top of it all is a bit over-bearing,” he says.

He wants to study for an arts degree in Irish and geography and go onto become a teacher.

Rachelle Biayi, however, feels the chances of her exams being disrupted by Covid-19 are low due to the precautions being taken by students and the school.

“Everyone will be wearing masks, they’ll be physically spaced out, so I think we’ll be sitting the exams without any problem,” she says.

“Yes, I’m feeling stressed and nervous, but I’m channelling all that adrenaline into motivating me to do the best I can do.”

Like many students at Pobalscoil Neásain, Vicky Ogundipe is planning to sit all her written exams and avail of accredited grades. Nonetheless, she is feeling anxious.

“I’m really nervous and stressed,” she says. “There are a lot more people applying to the CAO this year and limited space on courses, but all I can do is try my very best.”

The possibility of contracting Covid or being designated as a close contact is an occasional worry.

“ I’ll keep doing what I’m doing to stay safe and make sure I can go ahead sit my exams. Our schools has done a good job of keeping us safe from Covid so far,” she adds.

Mark Roche is also nervous, but his concerns are more focused on CAO points going up this year.

“ I’m going for bio-medicine, so I’m worried it will go even higher than last year.

“I’m sitting four exams, so I can focus on the ones I don’t do quite as well in to try to boost my points,” he says.

Sophie Kelly is also hoping to score highly i given that medicine is her first choice.

“I want to sit all the exams so I know that I’ll have done everything I could to secure my points rather than leaving it up to teachers.” she says.

“I always wanted to go into medicine. Looking at stories on the news around the doctors and nurses who are working so hard show they are real-life super heroes. I’d love to go into that area.”