It was to be a model town. Adamstown, at the edge of the Dublin-Kildare border, was hailed as a well-planned new community where families and young professionals could build a new life for themselves.
As we drive in, it certainly does feel like a model town: a two-dimensional, flat, architect’s model. Amid the monochrome red-brick, three-storey residential units, there’s little sign of anything that would make this into a community. The collapse of the property sector slammed the brakes on the Adamstown project: there were to be 8,000 residential units but only 1,200 have been built.
There’s still no sign of the promised town centre, leisure centre, or all-weather pitches. The village has a diocesan school and an Educate Together primary school.
And then we arrive at Adamstown Community College, the local co-educational post-primary. As education writers who visit schools on a regular basis, we often feel like a bit like the school inspector: all the pupils have been warned to be on their best behaviour and, for God's sake, not to embarrass the principal in front of The Irish Times.
Immediately, this felt very, very different. There's a big open foyer with a stage, and the students mostly ignore us as they rehearse Miley Cyrus' The Climb for their upcoming graduation.
The students are relaxed and natural and have great banter among themselves and with the teachers. Some of the boys wear their uniform with long hair and beards and some of the girls have dyed hair. All seem at ease with their teachers.
The teachers are noticeably young; some look not much older than their students. At teacher union conferences, sometimes, it's those younger teachers, who entered a much more challenging profession, who are often the most motivated and creative – it feels real here. GAA players Kevin Nolan (Dublin), Edel Quinn (Longford) and Denise Hallissey (Kerry) are on the teaching staff. This school is the beating heart of this fledgling community.
We’re greeted by the principal, Des Newton. He began here in 2009 with 69 first-year pupils. Coming from a rural school on the Inisowen peninsula in Donegal to this new urban environment was a massive personal change. Five years later, there are 870 pupils, and growing. This is the first year they will have a Leaving Cert class.
With the Irish Times League Tables – beloved of parents, not so adored by teachers – around the corner the pressure is on, surely?
Newton is sanguine. “We have a broad range of academic ability here and an inclusive enrolment policy. There’s also an eclectic demographic, with students from over 50 countries and a small Leaving Cert Applied class.”
Starting a new school was a challenge. Major decisions had to be made that would affect the future of the children and the community. “We had to decide on IT resources, subject choice and curriculum, student journals and uniforms. We wanted a curriculum that reached out to every different style of learner. Most importantly, we had to communicate that we were here, and that we exist.”
The school has a broad curriculum. It is one of just a tiny handful of non-denominational schools in Ireland.
No religious ethos is promoted and, while the school includes and respects Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Muslim, atheist and agnostic students, there are no religious ceremonies.
A code of positive behaviour replaces a disciplinarian approach. They had a recent Wellbeing Week and LGBT awareness week.
We meet six young people. They’re bright and engaged and gregarious.
Over the next few weeks, they'll share their progress through the Leaving in a series of daily diaries for ExamWatch. In August, we'll see how they got on.
The 18-year-old from Nigeria moved to Ireland aged 9. He went to a Gaelscoil and is fluent in Irish; he also speaks Yoruba, an ethnic Nigerian language Dream job: Music technology College choice: Music production, IADT Life in Adamstown: Not a lot to do, but student council are pushing for community centre to be made Favourite subject: Music Least favourite: French Favourite music: R&B, rap Guilty pleasure: Ed Sheeran music When I get my Leaving Cert result . . . I will panic, panic, open, panic, and hope I have enough points. Have to get 310 or over. Is the LC fair? Yes and no. There will be changes that benefit future students. But we’re forgotten Current FB status: Labels are for jars, not for people Exam food: Water How I relax: Watching TV Favourite show: Arrow Top study tip: Don’t leave it all till the last minute Adamstown in three words: Different, mixed, emotional
The 18-year-old has Polish heritage. Life in Adamstown: There's not a lot to do in Adamstown Dream job: Anything to do with art College Choice: Art in IADT Favourite subject: Art Favourite music: Nirvana When I get my Leaving Cert results I will... Stress. Beyond that, I don't know. Is the LC fair: Yes and no. I don't like the gap between higher and ordinary levels, the points system and the stress. There must be a better way. Guilty pleasure: Milky Chance (a German folk/electronic / reggae duo). And Ed Sheeran Current Facebook status: I don't really post on Facebook Exam food: Water and coffee How I relax: Exercise, yoga, painting Favourite TV show: Criminal Minds Top study tip: Do your homework! Teacher gives it for a reason. Adamstown in three words: Diverse, welcoming, friends
Evelina Siaulyte Evelina is 18 and has Lithuanian heritage Dream job: Becoming a doctor. College choice: Nursing in Trinity College Dublin. I need 500 points. I didn't apply for medicine. Favourite subject: Biology and music Favourite album: I like an eclectic mix! On the day of my Leaving Cert results... I will go out with my family to celebrate. Is the Leaving Cert fair? Yes, though some subjects are particularly tricky Guilty pleasure: I'm trying to eat healthy but I love junk food, especially crisps Exam food: Lots of vegetables and juices from an aquatiser How I relax: Reading, especially mystery and romance Favourite TV show: Downton Abbey Current Facebook status: I don't use it much lately Top study tip: Home-made flashcards Adamstown in three words: Nice, friendly, diverse
Keith Coffey Keith is 17 and is a native of Lucan. He's a keen footballer and is interested in spirituality and how people view the world. Dream Job: To teach business and religion College Choice: Theology and arts, Maynooth University Life in Adamstown: It's all about the football really Favourite subject: Business Least favourite: Maths and Irish Favourite music: The Script Guilty pleasure: The gym and productive procrastination When I get my results: Enjoy the silence (no more arguments about studying) Is the LC fair? No. Some professions are for some people and the Leaving Cert can lock people out. We need an interview system like the PLCs Current FB status: It's all over! But it's just beginning… Exam food: Pizza How I relax: Football Favourite show: Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother Top study tip: Past exam papers! Adamstown in three words: One big family
Emily Kane The 18-year-old describes herself as argumentative with an interest in politics and current affairs. She's a head girl at Adamstown, a school she says has 'made me who I am'. Dream Job: Barrister College Choice: Law in Trinity College Dublin Favourite subject: English Least favourite: Maths Favourite song: Wizz Kaleefa's See You Again Guilty pleasure: Nutella on everything Is the LC fair? It's anonymous which is fair. However I don't think the marking schemes are very fair. Don't think teachers should assess their own students Current FB status: Not much has changed in a year. Still drinking the tea Exam food: As I mentioned, Nutella How I relax: Watching the soaps Favourite show: Eastenders Top study tip: A comfortable chair Adamstown in three words: Amazingly supportive community
Mumtaz Rostam Mumtaz is originally from Malaysia and has lived in Ireland for seven years. She loves going to school in Adamstown, and will miss the school when she leaves. Dream Job: Surgeon College Choice: Medicine in Trinity Life in Adamstown: It's all been about study this year! Favourite subject: Biology Least favourite: I like them all Favourite music: Pink Guilty pleasure: Reading (Gone Girl at the moment) When I get my results: Take a break! Is the LC fair? It's tough, but I think it's fair. It would be better if the exams were spread over two years instead of all at the end. It's hard to remember what you did at the beginning of fifth year. The courses are very long too. Exam food: Ben and Jerry's ice cream How I relax: TV Favourite show: Big Bang Theory (although my mother doesn't like me watching it) Top study tip: Take class exams seriously Adamstown in three words: Friendship, diversity, laughter