Rethinking the Leaving Certificate


Sir, – Prof Gerry McNamara makes a number of disparaging remarks about the Leaving Certificate (“Covid-19 has opened way to finally fix Leaving Cert”, Opinion & Analysis, September 2020). He claims that, “The Leaving Certificate is the same as when I taught it 30 years ago”, and that it is “accused of being out of date, depending too much on rote learning”, and is an examination process that has been captured by the middle class.

The Leaving Certificate is one of the fairest institutions in Irish society. As a mechanism to stream our young people into higher education, it treats everyone equally. All students sit the same paper, on the same day, and cannot be discriminated against in the corrections process regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic background, a powerful bulwark against capture by elites and a great example of meritocracy in action.

It also provides a robust test of academic ability and intelligence which are, lest we forget, the most important pre-requisites for success in our universities. Languages are examined by oral, aural and written tests, providing a rounded examination of each student’s ability. Quantitative subjects, such as maths, applied maths and physics, have been greatly improved and are stern measures of problem-solving ability and numeracy, which cannot be mastered through rote learning. The vocational subjects, such as construction studies, technical graphics, among other, rely on year-long project work, allowing students to express their creativity and technical skills, while the written paper focuses on important theoretical knowledge.

Nobody should be surprised at the success of the Leaving Certificate and our education system as a whole. Our young people, after finishing university, travel the world and are highly sought after by the most successful companies and institutions in the world. This is a far cry from the emigration that marred much of Irish history.

Why would Prof McNamara look askance at parents spending money on their children’s success in the Leaving Certificate? Surely any investment in a child’s education is to be admired and is a betterment to society. – Yours, etc,



Co Galway.

Sir, – Might I suggest that we adopt a system similar to the British A-levels, wherein compulsory core subjects are done away with after the Junior Cycle, and the student instead picks a handful of more in-depth electives, in accordance with their planned further education.

Allowing students at this stage to focus on their area of interest would surely garner a lot more enthusiasm for the Leaving Cycle, while being conducive to long-term learning, as opposed to mandating they study subjects they have no intention of utilising, or even remembering, beyond the final exam. – Yours, etc,



Co Wicklow.