Leaving Cert 2020 cancellation: Main questions that should be asked

Following the perhaps controversial decision by Ireland’s Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh to scrap this year’s Leaving Certificate on Friday, May 8, many questions have been raised since by the Irish public. For safety reasons, the decision made was, of course, the most sensible one. However, this article will now shed light on the fact that the Irish government’s resolution has perhaps given birth to far more questions than answers. 

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Calculated grades: Fair or not? 

Undoubtedly, the most controversial of issues now up for debate in the wake of the decision to axe the Leaving Cert this summer is the Calculated Grade scheme. Offered as somewhat of a compromise to all Leaving Cert students, I can see the rationale behind the decision. The estimated Leaving Cert mark of each student in Ireland will be calculated based on past exam and general subject performance being combined with an estimated mark that a teacher of any given subject will predict. Yes, there will be happy as well as unhappy students, but for me, 

Personally, I just simply cannot see the fairness here. What about students who have had family troubles plague their secondary school education? Is it fair on them that their future be decided by a mere estimated guess, based on past exam results which they may have failed due to issues at home or simple teen immaturity or irresponsibility? 

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Will third-level acceptance or future employment possibilities be affected? 

In a normal (non-COVID-19) situation, life as a Leaving Cert student and as a parent of said student is hard enough as it is. Throw a globally-sweeping pandemic into the frame and it’s a whole different ball game. “Will my child get to go to third-level education?” or “will this affect my child’s future employment opportunities?” are surely only a handful of questions occupying worried Irish parents’ minds across the country for the past month since the decision was made. 

Of course the Irish government has been quick to reassure students and parents that third-level education will still be accessible (just as it would be without the COVID-19-inspired Leaving Cert cancellation). However, I, for one, remain quite dubious. Yes, the calculated (estimated) grade of each Leaving Certificate student across Ireland will automatically and directly enter into their CAO (Central Applications Office) application form, but, this grade, at the end of the day, is a mere estimate.

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Students not receiving their first choice in their CAO application form will no-doubt argue that their eventual mark is not a fair reflection of the mark they potentially could have received if they had the opportunity to solely prepare for the physical exams throughout June. The decision made by the government, has, therefore, in my opinion, the potential to hinder Irish students’ access to college. Students who may not have performed to their best potential from first to fifth year in their secondary school lives will, of course, face the reality of missing out on the chance to study at university based on the fact that their past performance will be the be-all and end-all.

We cannot forget that people’s lives are in question here, and the future of these individuals is being decided in an unjust manner. Past continuous assessment-based performance is regarded as more important than potentially performing at your highest level on the day of an exam. Again, I do see the logic. Some will argue that this is the fairest way of doing things, as those who have worked hard throughout their secondary school lives will achieve what they deserve.

However, the argument still remains that students who are perhaps maturing at a later stage, who have a different way of studying (cram-style students, you know who you are) or have issues at home, are not being fairly treated. Don’t get me wrong, the government was left with very little options, but this scenario is like simply handing Roger Federer a Wimbledon title purely and solely based on his past performances at the acclaimed tennis Grand Slam. Absolute madness. 

Perhaps a not-so-bright light (but light nonetheless) shining amid the darkness is the fact that the government has said that a physical sitting of the Leaving Certificate 2020 will be possible eventually, as soon as it is deemed safe to do so. This, though, will almost certainly rule out college this year for those who feel their best chance at gaining college access is by undertaking the common sit at the desk in the P.E. hall physical state examinations.

Will requesting a Calculated Grade appeal affect immediate access to third-level education?

Potentially, but not quite. According to an article published by RTÉ on the day the decision was reached, this year’s Leaving Certificate students who may wish to appeal their final estimated mark in any given subject, may, thankfully, do so. If a satisfactory conclusion is mutually agreed upon following on from this appeal, students may then apply for and be accepted into third-level education.

Following on from this, in the case that a student remains unsatisfied with this appeal, he or she will then have the eventual opportunity to physically sit the exam(s) in question. Seemingly good news, this, however, may come at an extremely hefty price for students who wish to undertake this process, as the government has revealed that said students run the risk of not being eligible to apply for third-level education should they wish to actually go through this quite long-winded process. 

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What about fifth-year students? 

In the midst of all the chaotic and slightly confusing adjustments Irish Leaving Certificate students have been hit with, fifth-year students across the country have also been quite affected by the ongoings. Speaking to me today about the future uncertainty, Limerick’s fifth-year John The Baptist Community School student Aoife O’Sullivan said that if she had been doing her Leaving Cert this year she would “not feel very confident” due to the fact that teachers simply have no way of knowing “how hard you could have worked after the mocks.”

“As a fifth-year [student] I am shocked that I may not be able to control my future, [we’ve been] told by teachers to just “do our best” and that is just not enough for any student to achieve their goals. These past couple of months trying to teach myself, and certain teachers not cooperating or helping really has put a strain on my education, with work overload from teachers without any instructions. [It’s] near enough to impossible,” said the 17-year-old. “I personally would prefer to [physically] sit a Leaving Cert exam as I see it as the fairest way in getting the most accurate results.”

The wait for fifth-year as well as Leaving Cert students goes on. With every move the government makes being eagerly scrutinised by directly affected parents and students alike, it’s surely only a matter of time before some sort of “normality” is restored into the lives of the Irish youth and their education. 

Conor Lynch
Conor Lynch

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