‘We’re stressed and anxious’: Leaving Cert students react to likely school closures

Many feel they are falling behind and won’t be prepared for summer exams

Many Leaving Cert students are worried about the impact of school closures on the planned summer exams. Photograph:  David Jones/PA Wire

Many Leaving Cert students are worried about the impact of school closures on the planned summer exams. Photograph: David Jones/PA Wire

 

Matthew Colgan
Bridgetown, Co Wexford
To be honest, I feel school closures may be detrimental to my study, As a Leaving Cert student I worry about how my mocks and orals will be pushed back and I do not feel adequately informed by the Department of Education, who only ever seem to give information to students as an afterthought.

I’m extremely worried about the impact the closures will have on my mocks and exams. I do not feel that online learning works for me. Personally, I am more of a hands-on learner and due to the lockdown in March last year, I’m already way behind on my courses. The department’s revision of the exam hasn’t really helped.

Matthew Colgan: “I’m extremely worried about the impact the closures will have on my mocks and exams.”
Matthew Colgan: “I’m extremely worried about the impact the closures will have on my mocks and exams.”

From how this year has panned out, I would prefer to sit a traditional Leaving Cert exam. I feel that if a conversation was had with students at the start of the school year, my choice might be different, but I do not feel that a system of predicted grading would benefit me personally or any student who is behind on their course – which is almost all of them.

Emer Neville
Clonmel, Co Tipperary

Emer Neville: “Keeping a sense of normality is something I’d be really in favour of especially with the chaotic year students have had.”
Emer Neville: “Keeping a sense of normality is something I’d be really in favour of especially with the chaotic year students have had.”

I feel extremely uneasy about the prospects of school closing. There’s been no clarity on whether online tuition will be provided or what will happen with our mock exams. This lack of clarity and lack of presence from the minister is what is causing the most stress in my opinion. With mock exams starting at the beginning of February, and weeks of school closures in January, how will they be affected?

For students going abroad or applying for scholarships, the mock exams are just as important as the real thing and I don’t see how following, what looks like weeks of closures, they’ll be able to go ahead.

Again, the lack of clarity from the Department is the biggest issue. Students are the most important stakeholder in the education system and they’re being kept in the dark.

Personally, I’d prefer to sit a traditional Leaving Cert. Keeping a sense of normality is something I’d be really in favour of especially with the chaotic year students have had.

David Wright
Lucan Co Dublin

David Wright: “I feel closing schools might be the safest option for people.”
David Wright: “I feel closing schools might be the safest option for people.”

I feel closing schools might be the safest option for people. We have seen the number of cases rise to higher than ever before and we need to look at all options to flatten the curve.

Personally, I find it hard to stay motivated with online schooling but if I know that it is saving peoples’ lives, I feel more comfortable with closing the schools down for a longer period of time.

I am really worried about the impact of closures on the exams. The one thing that we have never been given - but always asked for - is clarity.

I know the situation is volatile and it is ever-changing but we need clarity on the plans that are in place. My mocks are scheduled for February 1st. Will they still go ahead now? I have no idea but I need to know what I am meant to be preparing for. It’s the same with the leaving cert exams. I am frustrated with not knowing what is going to happen.

Personally, I am happy with a traditional exam or calculated grades. I think an actual Leaving Cert would be something I would prefer though as I am more comfortable with the format and I work well under pressure.

Beth Doherty
Co Dublin

Beth Doherty: “There needs to be a clear commitment to keep exam years in as long as possible and get us back as soon as we can in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Beth Doherty: “There needs to be a clear commitment to keep exam years in as long as possible and get us back as soon as we can in a safe and sustainable manner.”

Right now, students don’t feel safe with upwards of 5,000 cases a day and going into school with hundreds of other households. This has been a source of immense stress and anxiety for students. However, if schools close fully, this will worsen the digital divide for online learning and disadvantage thousands of exam students.

Options for at-home and online learning to the same standard as that given in in-person should also be offered for all those with at-risk family or who are high-risk themselves.

The longer we’re closed the more challenges there are around the fairness of the Leaving Cert due to the disparity in accessing online learning. For that reason, I believe exam years should be prioritised in a potentially staggered reopening.

With regard to mocks, I do believe they can be postponed. However, the current questions around whether they will go ahead is a source of stress and uncertainty for students which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

If they introduced the calculated grades system, I would have serious concerns having seen how it disadvantaged so many students in the class of 2020.

Matthew Morrin
Kill, Co Kildare

Matthew Morris: “We have to ensure that no student is left behind in the months ahead, and that means prioritising services and supports for special educational needs students.”
Matthew Morris: “We have to ensure that no student is left behind in the months ahead, and that means prioritising services and supports for special educational needs students.”

With schools facing imminent closure, my initial thoughts turn to the most vulnerable of students. In 2020, we saw SEN [special educational needs] students miss out on the vital services that second-level institutions provide, tearing away an essential support to both them and parents.

Additionally, key worker parents of children in education were – and still are - put under extreme stress to scramble and find childcare for their children while they continue working on the frontline.

We have to ensure that no student is left behind in the months ahead, and that means prioritising services and supports for SEN students and children of key workers so that they don’t feel the brunt of school closures.

The prospect of potentially sitting an exam in June with little-to-no adequate preparation for is just one of the many things that are causing a great deal of distress for exam year students across the country.

As for a traditional Leaving Cert or calculated grades system, both systems bring many hurdles and obstacles with nameless repercussions. I don’t think there is any clear solution for the class of 2021, but what students do need right now is clarity.

Saskia Eiffe
Mountnugent, Co Cavan

Saskia Eiffe: “The health of myself and my family is my top priority. I understand that schools are deemed a safe environment, but what scares me is being exposed to Covid and bringing it home to my family, and them getting sick.”
Saskia Eiffe: “The health of myself and my family is my top priority. I understand that schools are deemed a safe environment, but what scares me is being exposed to Covid and bringing it home to my family, and them getting sick.”

The health of myself and my family is my top priority. I understand that schools are deemed a safe environment, but what scares me is being exposed to Covid and bringing it home to my family, and them getting sick. If schools have to close then they have to close but the government needs to have resources in place for students who do not have the facilities for online learning and for the children of frontline workers.

Of course I’m worried about the impact of the closures on my exams, this is my leaving cert year, the most stressful year of any teenager’s life in normal times, let alone during a global pandemic. The uncertainty surrounding the 2021 exams has been around since the start of this pandemic when schools closed last March, and when the class of 2020 were sorted out, the class of 2021 felt they had just been left in the dark. Leaving Cert reform needs to happen, people have been saying it for years, and unfortunately it has taken a global pandemic to bring about even slight modifications.

I haven’t decided what I would prefer in order to get my Leaving Cert, I see pros and cons in both, but what I do know is that it is unfair for students to be studying for a traditional Leaving Cert exam on top of excessive class tests in the case that there is calculated grades. For the mental wellbeing of both students and teachers we need to know now what is happening.

Adam Lambe
Monaghan Town

Adam Lambe: “I am very worried myself as I know from last year’s experience that this will have an awful impact on my education.”
Adam Lambe: “I am very worried myself as I know from last year’s experience that this will have an awful impact on my education.”

I am very worried myself as I know from last year’s experience that this will have an awful impact on my education. Online education simply can’t match the in-school learning and it is also very tough on students’ mental health to be isolated inside all day, every day. I am very worried for the students who won’t be able to keep on top of their work at home and how this will impact their exams. That being said, I also accept that a lot of students and teachers don’t feel safe in school, particularly during this height of the pandemic.

The mocks have always been central to schools Leaving Cert revision courses and for this to be jeopardised I can see most students starting to panic about their Leaving Cert as am I. At this point we are all concerned about our Leaving Cert and we are relying on the Department of Education to make the right decision and we can only hope that they will listen to student voice on this. The Irish Second-Level Students Union (ISSU) have been adamant about getting our voices heard, so it is up to the government to listen and make decisions that are well thought out. Decisions such as closing schools mustn’t be made lightly and it must be understood how this impacts our exams.

Personally, I would prefer a traditional Leaving Cert as this is the style of exam I have been preparing for, for the past six years of my second level education.