Students’ on Leaving Cert reform: ‘We’re being pushed to breaking point’

We invited students to give their views on this issue. Here’s what you said.

The pressure of the Leaving Cert is causing stress, burnout and mental health problems among students, according to a review of senior cycle education.

The pressure of the Leaving Cert is causing stress, burnout and mental health problems among students, according to a review of senior cycle education.


The pressure of the Leaving Cert is causing stress, burnout and mental health problems among students, according to an official review of senior cycle education in secondary schools.

With the assistance of the Irish Secondary Students’ Union, we asked pupils to share their views on what they want to change about the senior cycle system. Here is a selection of your responses, some of which have been edited for space reasons:

Continual assessment

“Why do our Leaving Certificate oral examinations, practical examinations and project deadlines all lie within three weeks of each other and within two months of the Leaving Cert itself?
“Not only are students trying to focus on completing these projects practicals and orals, which can add up to 40% of our final grades, but we also are trying to keep on top of our written exams we will have to complete in June. Why can’t these tasks be completed in fifth year or even early sixth year, before Christmas? Students are being put under tremendous pressure to complete these tasks, not only so soon before the exams but also so close to eachother, it’s ludicrous!”
- India Costello, Co Mayo

“Students should be assessed over the year and not face one final exam to remember September’s work in June. There are a lot of subjects to remember. And, sorry to say, the Irish language should not be compulsory. Subjects must be chosen to help make a young person valuable in society. Computer science should be taught from five years old. Subjects must be relevant.”
- Fabio Gentile, Dublin

“Exams don’t reflect the true ability of the student at all. You could be an A grade student all year around and something could happen the day of the exam which could stop you from doing the exam to your full potential and straight away you drop to a D. It’s time that the education system starts reviewing the exam system and making changes, because the way it is now is so unpractical. Makes me so frustrated.”
- Emma Quinn

“We need more opportunities to get marks before the exams. 60-plus per cent earned before the exam 40 per cent or below obtained from the exam. Study is what causes stress !!”
- Jas Gal

“Exams should be more project-based for english and biology. We need More subjects like law , psychology , media or drama to learn at leaving cert level so you will have some knowledge before going in to college. More continous assessment.”
- Ailish Burke, Co Galway

“As an 18-year-old studying for the Leaving Cert, I think all subjects should be optional at Leaving Cert level; At all levels, the Irish course needs to be refined and improved. Better education in language structure & more focus on oral and speaking ability would be great. I don’t think rote tests are necessarily the devil, but I think more applied learning and different methods of evaluating knowledge are needed. Research projects and longform end-of-year essays are a good way to achieve this...
"The recent suggestion of 50 Leaving Cert points allocated for important outside-curriculum activity like sport and arts, like music & theatre, etc. is one I would strongly agree with. This would go a long way to getting students to keep up their hobbies/passions and alleviate the anxiety surrounding the written exam.
- Sinéad Mooney


“In order to try and achieve a good grade, I regularly stay up late and wake up early to get all of my homework and some study done. More often that not, I get less than 8 hours sleep. I am not the only one who is forced to do this. This unhealthy way of surviving will have a long term effect on youths and for some there may be severe repercussions.
“Mental health is not a joke and needs to be taken seriously. Students are treated like children yet expected to act like adults. We are told a way to think and mustn’t stray far from it, yet when we reach the real world, we are expected to fend and think for ourselves. It makes no sense.”
- Caoimhe Hunt, Loreto College, Mullingar

“Studying for the Leaving Cert pre’s was a nightmare and don’t get me started about studying for the real thing. I’m doing my Leaving Certificate in 2019 and my routine at the moment is: “Wake up, eat, go to school, eat, study, sleep, wake up...”
- Z L, Cork

Broader recognition of skills

“Exams are biased towards those who can rote learn. You are discouraged from thinking independently from your textbook or notes as it will only result in a worse mark... The leaving cert in its current state deprives students of their social and personal wellbeing time among many other things.
“While many angles could be taken on the issue, I believe one of the most practical ways to improve the exams would be to introduce a continuous assesment or project work element to more exams
- Dylan Carrig

“The Leaving cert shouldn’t be so exam -focused. Students leave school with no idea of what they want to do, not being able to open a bank account, read a pay slip, apply for a mortgage. I’m not saying this all needs to be taught in school, but imagine how beneficial this could be... The leaving cert is severely FLAWED.
“A student whom I know studied and studied her brains out for the exam, only to have her mother pass away just before the exams. She didn’t do as well as she could of not because she didn’t work hard enough but because of personal tragedy. She was left feeling guilty about not doing well. This is sickening. The Leaving cert should 100% be continuous assessment, taking ease off the students but still ensuring work is being done. I’ve known so many people who have pushed themselves to breaking point for these exams.”
- Lauren Humphries, Co Dublin

“The Leaving Cert is fit to be used as a method of torture! It drains individuals mentally, physically and financially... Changes should be made to make the exam less of a “focus” and more of a “bonus”. The main purpose of education is foster the development of an individual, not to kill their creativity and to allow their mental health to suffer as a result.
"Classroom based assessments, mini-courses, more project work, life skills and much more are some of the changes that should be introduced to the curriculum. This will allow for the learning process to be more enjoyable and beneficial for all individuals involved. It is time for change. No other country in modern day Europe has siluch an outdated education system. It’s time for change.”
- Joseph Keena, Co Dublin

“As a young person who has been active in many fields outside of school with activities such as volunteering, I’m now faced with the stress of both the leaving cert and CAO application, none of which are of to my benefit with regards to the career... The only thing that matters in the number of points I can clock up during that week in June. We need to incorporate more continuous assessment to the leaving cert, we are expected to learn off huge masses of information and there’s only a chance it will come up on the final exam...
“Everybody speaks about how terrible the Leaving Cert is yet nothing is ever done to change the system. I think there should be more of a focus on life skills such as saving money, budgeting, social science, empathy and at least two or three mandatory weeks of work experience or volunteering for students who wish go pursue a certain career or wish to study a certain course as they can be very different to how they are marketed.”
- Ashling Dunphy, Co Tipperary

Fewer subjects, more time

“We need fewer subjects of more importance! Eg having to do English, Irish and maths and two others - then any others should be everyone’s own choice. We also need highet points for ordinary level grades, they are under marked!”
- Sarah Ryan

“Each exam should have a whole day, from 9am to 4pm. Students can leave or enter at whatever time they choose but obviously cannot come back once they leave. It takes away the time pressure and students can actually sit and think about what they want to write. I think results would improve massively if each exam could be completed any time between 9am and 4pm.”
- Niamh Mullarkey

“If someone is not able for higher level, they shouldn’t be pressured by their teachers or parents to do higher level... Stop the emphasis on higher level and let the student decide what they are able to do, not how much points they want. The Leaving shouldn’t be a ‘points contest’. Level should be about ability, not competition for points. This needs to change.”
- Chelsea Bright

Change college entry system

“In my opinion. I think the way I would do it would be removing the CAO system leaving only the entry requirements. I think Ireland could look at making place for vocational schools after the Junior Cert as not everyone is suited for book learning.”
- Jakub Staniewski, Templemore, Co Tipperary

“The Leaving Certificate examination system is rigged: the most succesful students benefit from private tuition/grinds. Change the Leaving Certificate to level the playing pitch and create a system that allows a student to pursue a vocational education opportunity so that a student can train to be an electrician and eventually become a professor of electrical engineering.
“Create online mulitiple choice for many exams - this would thoroughly assess students knowledge of a subject. Let students repeat exams at any time. (Medical and IT industry have been using this system for decades). For the two most important subjects (English and Maths) allow more tuition time and allow disadvanged students the opportunity to study these subjects during June and July (employ third level students or retired engineers/scientists, use online tuition). Students can take examinations at the end of July. Can we learn from the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test). (USA ). This system has been used for decades.
- Garry McNamara, Limerick

“The practice of punishing those who are close to that ‘H1’ by altering marking schemes for example, so that the State Examinations Commission can keep consistent with the ‘bell curve’ is extremely demoralising for the students. On the other hand, I believe the system is completely unfit for students whose strengths lie elsewhere.
"Why don’t we have specialised schools like the rest of Europe, where they are shown to be highly effective? With different systems for different types of aptitudes, be it trade, languages, science or other. The system as it is now does not cater for everyone. I think an alternative system should be realised for those that do not want to go down the route of university and that this would solve many problems.”
- Rebecca Lane, Co Galway

Change teaching and learning

“I’m in an International Bacculerate School... At first I struggled with moving away from a rote and content-heavy curriculum to teacher-designed concept based units of inquiry.
“There is a grade-based weekly feedback to students that moved away from the percentage based scoring system I was used to. Individualized teaching is core to daily lessons where Ieach student is pushed to reach their potential and set out a plan to help them improve in key skills that enables them to obtain a learner profile by the end of the four-year program.
- Ceire Hatton, Co Dublin

Our next ‘have your say’ debate is on the Friday’s climate change ‘school strike’. Is it right to skip class to protest?

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