‘We’ve been ignored’: Leaving Cert students on the postponement of exams

We asked sixth-year students to share their views about plans for this year’s exams. This is what they said

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar  alongside Minister for  Education Joe McHugh as they announced plans to delay the Leaving Cert. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar alongside Minister for Education Joe McHugh as they announced plans to delay the Leaving Cert. Photograph: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

 

While I would not describe my self as happy with the decision I do understand it. I doubt that any 17- or 18 year-old is thrilled to be losing their long sought-after summer holidays.

As much as the choice is far from ideal I believe it was the best option. Frankly, there was no decision that wasn’t going to be riddled with controversy. To go ahead with the exams as planned in June would put all those who are most vulnerable in a position where by they must choose to prioritise their health or their education.

And predicted grades in theory may seem like a solution our education system is not equipped for that like the UK’s is. The postponement of the exams will most definitely cause copious amounts of stress and anxiety. However, I fail to see an alternative.

It is hard to say the implications the decision will have on my grades, naturally it will be a difficult time of my life and I think that my final grades will largely be dependant on how long I can effectively stick to online learning plans before losing all motivation and depending on how long we are in school for prior to the final exams.

I would like to believe that this time off will aid me in my studies though I think it would be naïve of me to assume that I will be productive during the months that were supposed to be holiday months. This is a very difficult time for everyone and not just students so I will try to simply take each day as it comes and go from there.

- Claire Jermyn

It is absolutely shameful that, going by the ISSU (Irish Second Level Students’) survey, the Government chose the least popular option. That is not how this should work. Minister McHugh does not understand the stress and pressure that we have to endure from every single angle from our life, especially considering we are now alone, by ourselves, with no teachers there to help. Instead, they send emails and you are expected to understand new content without a verbal explanation.

This only benefits those learners who prefer written information rather than it being spoken to you by a teacher. There is a clear divide now in terms of who is actually benefitting from all this. Clearly, neither the Department, the Minister nor the Taoiseach understand this. If they did, they would have instead chosen the preferred predicted grades option.

Predicted grades would help because this year out of any others, we need exceptions to be made. Every other aspect of society have had exceptions made for them: mortgage deferments, the pandemic payment. They have supports in place. Students do not.

Personally, I had plans for summer. While they still had slim chances of happening due to the Covid-19 pandemic, they are now completely wiped out due to this postponement. The opportunity for students to wind down after the exams is now erased, and replaced with a wind up instead!

We will not have our summer. We will not have an opportunity to see friends and have fun in the sun, or take advantage of part time jobs, to gain some experience of the working world. That has now been ripped out of our book of life, and replaced with “Leaving Cert: Continued”.

- Matthew Joyce

My overwhelming emotion is one of relief that a decision has been announced, albeit not one I would have hoped for. While I am pleased that my work over the past two years will not go to waste, I am unable to help having an overwhelming sense of dismay at the idea of spending my summer hunched over a desk committing maths theorems to memory.

I do not believe that there was ever going to be a correct option. I think given the unprecedented circumstances, holding written exams is the best way to ensure that students work over the past two years will still be recognised. However, it is difficult to justify the loss of class time on courses that were not designed to be taught online and I fear it will widen the divide between those with an abundance of opportunities and those for whom they are limited.

A place on our dream course is supposed to motivate sixth years to further push ourselves. Truthfully, in revising for the Leaving Cert, I have always been more driven by the short-term.

On the days when studying my seven subjects in great detail seemed like an insurmountable undertaking, it has always been the tantalising possibility of the summer ahead that returned my attention to the books.

I fear the loss of this will leave me fighting twice as hard to stay motivated in the coming months, particularly with the added distraction of Covid-19 still set to be lingering.

- Sophie Coffey

As a Leaving Certificate student, I must admit I am dumbfounded at the grievous ineptitude that Education Minister Joe McHugh has displayed about the recent concerns regarding our student’s second-level education nationwide.

As someone subject to the collateral damage left behind by the government in their recent decisions, I would beg - for the sanity of my fellow Leaving Cert students - that the Taoiseach reconsider his decisions in light of the educational purgatory I now find myself in.

In my opinion, it is unfathomable how the Government expects students to sit exams which determine their future in the midst of a global pandemic while their nearest and dearest succumb to this deadly virus. The voice of frustration from students such as myself is becoming defining. Please, Mr Varadkar, we deserve provisional dates and an immediate update on a CAO. That is clarification.

Overall, what I am asking of the government is simple. Reconsider your decisions. The “clarity” offered on Good Friday left us feeling no different than the days previous. We demand clarification not procrastination.

Students such as myself should not suffer academically as a result of this pandemic. We deserve to know what contingency plans are in place and to be given provisional dates for exams, which are understandably subject to change. We need to be informed of how the CAO will proceed and how college places will be awarded.

We need to be informed of how and when scripts from our Leaving Certificate will be corrected and to what quality and standard. We need a solution for both the academic and mental wellbeing of over 65,000 students.

We are the next generation of Éire. We are the ones adhering to the measures and deprivations of liberty imposed on us by the government to save the lives of others. We don’t need a thank you. We need clarification. So please, put yourselves in our shoes. We demand clarification, not procrastination.

- Dave Lawlor

We, between the ages of 17 and 19, demand to be heard. We have voices and we know how to use them. In the eyes of the state, most of us are considered adults, I, for one, am. I have a right of speech, a right to make my opinions heard, I am not a child. I can see the stress and pressure this decision has put myself, my parents and the general public under. I am acutely aware of the fact that you want the “Class of 2020” to have as normal a school year and as fair a chance at our exams as possible.

However, I must ask, what about our current situation is considered “normal”? Is it the fact that we cannot venture more than two kilometres from home? Or that I cannot put my arms around my terrified elderly grandmother and tell her that we will get through this?

We are living in times where “normality” has been thrown out the window, apparently along with all of your department’s intelligence.

Do you want to talk about fairness? It is by no means fair that you expect young adults, who have been trying to bear the crushing weight of the Leaving Certificate, to carry this weight for at least two months later than we signed up for.

Your actions have essentially driven us back in time to February, a time when panic attacks were a more common sight in the hallways than teachers, when students were scared to go to school, when I was sick, day after day, with blinding migraines and nausea. You have dumped us into the winter of our life time with seemingly no escape.

- Mikaela Louise McNamara

I appreciate these necessary actions by the Irish Government in the face of such a unique situation however, since the announcement of the immediate closure of all secondary schools across the country on March 12th, young people have felt forgotten.

We have received no information or direction apart from the common yet ill-conceived encouragement of “keep up your schoolwork”

The decision to cancel oral practicals and award all students 100 per cent was by no means a perfect solution, but it did satisfy worried students regarding their immediate concerns. Following this move, the delayed “clarification” given last Friday, presents nothing but inadequacies and consequently lacks any clarification which students not only desire but deserve. This announcement came as a shock to some, however, the leak of a Zoom conference call with An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, confirmed to students our worst fears. We had not been adequately consulted and our voices were ignored.

- Jennifer Flynn

It is understandable that predictive grading , with a choice to sit the exam in August is not the most amazing option, however, it is the fairest. It’s not unprecedented. Ireland’s second-level teachers already provide predictive grades when students are applying for college places abroad. I believe that the opinion of candidates should be taken into account, as it has a direct impact on their future. Some 48 per cent of candidates voted for predicted grades as opposed to 19 per cent who wish to sit exams in late July or August according to the ISSU’s survey. Ultimately, we feel like we have been thrown a bone to quell our misgivings and keep us quiet. Although most of us are too focused and worried about the welfare of our family, friends and potential economic instability to voice our concerns, this does not mean our concerns are without merit. The decision-makers have disappointed us. I guess to them, the 18-year-old and 19-year-old electorate sitting these examinations are just collateral damage. Although we are being rendered voiceless, the reaction to this crisis and its impact on candidates will be reflected in future ballot boxes.

- Andrea Leddy

After speaking to students from all over Ireland who have both the “normal” stress that comes with sitting the Leaving Certificate, we now are also living in the midst of a global pandemic which is unnatural and confusing for everyone, and it is narrowly being assumed that we can continue to “study as normal and stay focused”.

Many students have parents who are working on the frontline therefore they are looking after siblings or are alone all day in the house which is a worrying and also lonely situation; students who attend Irish speaking schools do not have access to the online materials that those of us at English speaking schools; some students find it incredibly difficult to study at home and concentration levels can be low; a lot of students do not have access to Wifi/laptops and some teachers are unable to communicate with their students online.

One friend of mine who has not heard from her higher level maths teacher since the closure of schools on March 12th, and we can be assured that this is not an individual case either. Unfortunately, these are only a couple of points in a long list of inequitable realities for students right now.

- Alicia Joy O’Sullivan

I am not claiming to be the voice of all Leaving Certificate students - but we should cancel the exams and grade students on their overall two years of work. Any student unhappy could sit the exam later in the year.

This way it is equal to all students. It allows the ones who are mentally struggling to not put their mental health at any more risk, while those who want to sit their exams can do so at a later time when it is safe to do so. This way we can control social distancing at a more realistic manner and this also equals the sharp divide between the haves and have nots.

Either way there are always going to be some students unhappy with the outcome. I understand that decision-makers are in a very difficult situation, but is it worth prioritising tradition over mental health especially in this day and age in 2020?

The SEC has given predicted grades before if exam papers are misplaced so they have some knowledge of how that could work. As after all the Leaving Certificate was not designed to be taught online, so why have teachers at all if we just have to teach ourselves the courses?

I am a hard working student, I caught up on all my fifth year work when I was ill last year. I had my head set for the exams to take place in June under normal circumstances just like every other sixth year student, but now Covid-19 has thrown a spanner in the works, in which we need to put our students’ mental health before a pen to paper, just like Einstein said: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking”. I am asking you to change your traditional thinking. We are asking you to put yourselves in our many upon many shoes. With the majority of us students voting for the exams to be cancelled on the recent ISSU Survey. We are asking you to do the right thing.

- Eamon (full name with editor)

How does pushing out the exams, which normally start at the beginning of June to end July/beginning of August help in preparation and alleviate stress? This just prolongs the stress and anxiety which coincides with normal study and exasperates it by leaving students on their own, asking millions of questions, that have no answers to the logic of this way of thinking, and what is to follow on top of this, to extend the academic year thinking that this is ‘preparation time’?

How can it be? School/formal education, finished at the beginning of March. Five months later you expect students to enter the classroom again, for a two-week period, to achieve what exactly, and then spend the month of August in an exam hall? ‘the best interest of students first”!!! How can you mark these exam papers fairly, when clearly the academic year was cut short and subject courses not completed? Your statement puts added pressure on all students and will lead to burnout and mental health problems.

This is an unprecedented time and the education system already has in place a marking scheme for “events that can occur in a student’s life that are unprecedented”. It can award predictive grades, it has in the past. I think it is only fair that the government reconsiders its decision to run with the exams in late summer and instead revert to a predictive score for all students.”

- Isabel (full name with editor)