Leaving Cert parents, silence is your friend

Sixth-year students have a lot on their plate as we all endure these final weeks

The Leaving Cert is still some weeks away – it starts on June 5th – but term time is petering out fast for the country’s 55,000-plus sixth-year students. In many cases they’re being allowed to study at home or rock up to school for occasional classes.

Bedrooms are their classrooms now: they can watch tutorials, pull up study guides in between bursts of Game of Thrones or whatever they can relax to. They can be barricaded in there for hours on end with their flickering laptops, piles of paper and highlighter pens. It’s not healthy, according to a teacher acquaintance I met this week or, more accurately, a teacher acquaintance I trapped on a windy footpath for ages, talking about the Leaving Cert. Too late he realised I had a candidate on my hands.

His advice for her: keep going to school and keep writing essays to keep the hands and the brain in sync. Students who just revise and revise their notes, well he said, they get a dead look about them, and dropping off the last few weeks of school isolates them. They end up like zombies in the exam hall, he said.

It sounded like sensible advice but I kept it to myself. Living with a Leaving Cert student in the month of May is all about self-restraint: you have so much to say but daren’t say any of it. They’re facing endgame, they’re very tired and fed-up and they’re in far more need of a cup of tea and a starchy snack than bright little study hacks from experts or, worse, hoary old nuggets of advice dredged up from one’s own Leaving Cert experience back in the Bronze Age. As a Leaving Cert parent you should not – if you’ve any sense or don’t want to end up in an unflattering Youtube clip – make any comment on anything at all to do with the candidate. Not their bitten nails, not the state of their room, not the fact that the final third of their Macbeth text looks suspiciously pristine. They just don’t want to know.


Ghastly ordeal

Who could blame them? It’s the loveliest time of year and they’re heading into a ghastly ordeal – a difficult, wide-ranging exam stretching over 20 days with yawning gaps between papers during which they need to keep up the studying while the weather gods play their usual trick of introducing blazing sunshine to the equation.

They're facing endgame, they're very tired and fed-up and they're in more need of a cup of tea and a snack than study hacks

The pressure can be intense, not least from parents expecting top-tier results so that their children can live the Irish dream of going to college, qualifying to enter the professions where they will supposedly earn decent wages and eventually be able to afford a home of their own. All they have to do to get there is cram in the curriculum whole and regurgitate it exam by exam, and then promptly forget it.

Each year, there’s great national handwringing over the Leaving Cert, and somehow each year the students manage to get through it. More power to them. There’s talk of the curriculum being dumbed-down, and of grades being inflated, but look over their shoulders, if they let you, and their workload seems pretty immense.

Regular as clockwork each year, it’s pointed out that the Leaving Cert is a flawed system, but there seems little agreement as to how it can be improved. This January, a National Association of Principals and Deputies (NAPD) survey on Leaving Cert reform, with data collected from parents, students, teachers and principals, came to the unanimous conclusion that reform is needed. Parents and pupils are in favour of more continual assessment it seems. Teachers are wary of the extra hours that would entail.

Students are reaching exhaustion point and the CAO Change Of Mind letter that dropped through letter boxes this week is adding to the pressure

Meanwhile, back in the bedrooms, students are reaching exhaustion point and the CAO Change Of Mind letter that dropped through letter boxes this week is adding to the pressure.

Change of mind

DO NOT IGNORE THIS DOCUMENT, it shouts, just in case you were about to sweep it into the recycling. Yikes. So now, as if they don’t have enough going on, third-level applicants must think long and hard about the choices they made back in February on their original CAO form. They can add, remove or reorder their course choices and lots of them do. Between now and the change of mind deadline on July 1st, approximately half of CAO applicants will make a change – if previous years’ figures are anything to go by. It’s an opportunity to get real, to choose something completely different or perhaps finally swap in as their number one a course that’s been calling to them through all the noise. But those are probably the lucky ones. It’s a lot of deciding to have to do for a brain already addled with seven, eight or even nine subjects and a looming sense of dread of the exams.

The deadline says open until July 1st and while the CAO is at pains to point out each year that it doesn’t want to see applicants making changes based on how they feel the Leaving Cert has gone for them, that’s exactly what a lot of students will be doing. Here again, parents will be swinging into action, totting up points and steering their candidate accordingly. Others will be working on managing expectations, reassuring themselves that all is not lost, that there are careers out there on the horizon not yet dreamed of and, sure, didn’t Bill Gates and Jack Dorsey drop out of college in their day?

For the candidate, none of this is very helpful. They will find their own role models and in time their own career path which may just as well develop from a piece of luck as a piece of paper.

Meanwhile these final weeks have to be endured by everyone. Say very little and be very kind.