Roddy Doyle says he would scrap Leaving Cert, which has become part of ‘utterly corrupt’ industry

Booker Prize-winning author says while Ireland prides itself on creativity the education system almost actively discourages it

The writer Roddy Doyle has said he would scrap the Leaving Certificate, if given the opportunity, saying the exam had become part of an "utterly corrupt" industry.

The Booker Prize-winning author said that during his days as an English teacher he found himself unable to encourage his students to write fiction because of the realities of the curriculum.

“The pressure always was do the essay because it’s easier to mark,” he recalled, describing this incentive as a “kind of corruption, frankly”.

“Even if you love the job of teaching, which I did, when it comes up to exam time you can’t escape the fact that you’re actually stoking a machine.”


He was speaking at a Social Justice Ireland conference on Irish population growth on Tuesday, in which he promoted his Fighting Words organisation which teaches the creative process of writing to young people in Ireland outside of the school system.

Doyle said Ireland was a country that prided itself on creativity, often naming things after artists. “We love the association with writing and yet the education system almost actively discourages it. And this seems perverse.”

News agenda

He also lamented Ireland’s apparent uniqueness in elevating the Leaving Certificate on the news agenda.

“Come June the Leaving Cert is normally the second item on the news : whether Yeats came up,” he said.

“The first item might be Brexit . . . and the third item might be the destruction of a nuclear power station somewhere.

“It’s an industry and it’s utterly corrupt. I don’t mean to be critical of individuals when I say that but you know, going back, our country is still very young: Did our grandparents fight for the Leaving Cert? I don’t think so.”

Asked by a member of the audience how he might allocate a children’s spending budget of €1 billion, Doyle said he would “get rid of the Leaving Cert and work backwards”, and invest heavily in sport for working-class children.

He said that while learning from mistakes was critical to improving work “the Leaving Cert system does not want that. And yet it is a vital part of any creative endeavour”.

Those who attend the free-of-charge Fighting Words courses are encouraged to focus on the development of creative talent, not the grammar and spelling of traditional schooling. Doyle explained that he had deliberately broken grammatical rules in order to capture his Dublin characters. Slang, he said, was the richest form of language.


A conference heard that by 2051 there will be about 1.7 million more people in Ireland, of whom the number aged 80 and over will increase by 270 per cent.

More than 2,500 health care professionals have been trained in the area of “frailty” as part of a collaborative effort by the National Clinical Programme for Older Persons and those behind the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing in Ireland (Tilda).

Consultant geriatrician Dr Diarmuid O’Shea said the training would make a difference as part of a shift toward focusing care models at home and in the community.

“And scattered around Ireland now are loads of frailty education networks,” he said. “Loads of integrated care sites looking to make these changes locally because locally driven change is a better form of change.”

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times