Northern Ireland

Lack of clarity about leaving certificate 'causing stress among students'

Luke Casserley, a member of the Irish Secondary Schools Union
Luke Casserley, a member of the Irish Secondary Schools Union Luke Casserley, a member of the Irish Secondary Schools Union

THE lack of clarity around when the Leaving Certificate will take place is causing undue stress to young people, a student leader has said.

The Teachers' Union of Ireland (TUI) has said "there is not and there cannot" be any guarantee that the rescheduled date for the exams will hold.

The Republic's government has decided to press ahead with the exam, saying it could take place in July or August instead of June.

It cannot confirm a date yet due to the Covid-19 emergency, however.

Young people have said speculation about the exams being postponed or cancelled was making pupils stressed.

In the north, there will be no summer exams with GCSEs, AS-levels, A-levels and vocational qualifications all called off.

Should schools in the Republic re-open, it has been suggested that Leaving Cert pupils will be the priority.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said he personally believed there would be health and wellbeing benefits to getting children back to school, even in a partial capacity.

He said there may be a need to focus on exam students.

Luke Casserly, a sixth year at St Mel's College in Co Longford and member of the Irish Secondary Schools Union executive, said there had been a lot of talk over the past couple of weeks about schools re-opening.

"Suggestions have included going back for two weeks, or once a week once restrictions are lifted. Unfortunately, there is still absolutely no certainty surrounding this. All this does is add stress for students at an already stressful time," he said.

"At this stage, we want definite answers, not possibilities and discussions."

He said while the government announced last month that the exam would be postponed, concerns among students remained.

"While the announcement on Good Friday gave many students a sense of relief initially, I think it became clear fairly soon after that it actually left us with more questions than answers," he added.

"This is especially disappointing as we see that students in the UK, France, and other countries know exactly what faces them. For example, there is still no guarantee that the exams can actually take place in July or August as the go-ahead will have to be given by public health officials.

"Two weeks in school does not seem like enough time to catch up on all projects that need to be completed and unfinished coursework."

He added that the government's decision to press ahead with the exam showed the inflexibility of the education system.

"While countries across the globe have adapted to this crisis by simply cancelling their summer exams and falling back on continuous assessment and other creative and innovative solutions, we remain deeply rooted in tradition," he said.

"Does it really make sense that six years of learning and study should end with one set of standardised exams that will determine what our students go on to do?

"I really hope that this will motivate decision-makers and stakeholders to push for a more flexible senior cycle, one that puts educating students ahead of examining them and assigning them a number that will determine their future and how society views them."