Leaving Cert cancelled | Personal story | Jigsaw Online

Leaving Cert cancelled

Tomás, (pictured middle) 18 from Offaly and a Jigsaw volunteer gives his story:

The average Irish student will spend six years in secondary school. The final two years of these six are spent with one thing in mind: the Leaving Cert.

For better or for worse (it’s for worse), every student knows from the minute they start fifth year that the exams they sit in just under two years’ time can change the direction of our lives. It’s the focal point of second level education. Those who did the Leaving Cert remember with a faint sense of horror, mingled with the triumph of having it behind them. It’s a landmark in a young Irish person’s life, as is their 18th birthday and the day they first move out of home.

Calculated grades 

So, where does that leave me? As of Friday, 8 May, I am part of a year group that will never sit the Leaving Cert, at least in its traditional sense. We will receive calculated grades, with the option of repeating individual exams. Like any other path that could have been taken, it was a controversial decision, but one that seems to be genuinely in the interest of the wellbeing of Irish students.

A lot of us are relieved. Of course we are. Isn’t this the dream of every Irish student, to have the exams cancelled, to narrowly avoid one of the most stressful sets of exams many will ever sit? With Covid-19 looking like it’s here for the long haul, we don’t have to worry about the health implications of sitting the tests in exam centres, paranoid about becoming victims or vectors of the virus on top of our existing exam anxiety.

Access to technology

I’m one of the lucky ones. For the last two years I’ve been able to work and study in supportive environments at home and in school. Over the last few weeks, I’ve had an internet connection and access to technology which are new necessities for distanced education. Others aren’t so fortunate.

Many of my friends are already considering other options, changing the order of their course preferences. In some cases they’re steeling themselves for a year-long delay to starting college if they need to sit a written exam at some unspecified time next autumn.

Reducing the risk

Things aren’t perfect, but they could be much worse. If disrupting the Leaving Cert is part of the price we pay to reduce the effects of Covid, it’s a price that will be accepted and, for some, celebrated.

On the other side, there is the emotional upheaval this has created. The last few weeks have brought an unexpected, vague ending to the most significant year of our school lives so far.

We didn’t realise our last school day in early March was our last, and so we never got that feeling of winding down

Tomás, 18, Jigsaw volunteer Offaly

Finishing school 

The end of sixth year has always been about, more than just getting ready for exams. It’s the last weeks spent wearing a school uniform, of asking to go to the bathroom. There’s the gradual conclusion of classes and coursework. This coincides with the bittersweet knowledge that these are the last weeks we will spend in daily contact with friends we’ve known for so many years.

After our last schooldays, we would spend June sitting exams and one by one be Finished, be Free, both with a capital ‘F’. That was to be the big moment – to walk in as students one more time and walk out into the sun (it would be the last day of exam weather) with “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” somehow playing in the background.

We didn’t realise our last school day in early March was our last, and so we never got that feeling of winding down, taking stock of how far we’ve come and anticipating separate futures, together. The last days of school instead passed in a strange fog, hearing more and more about the virus but all the while convinced we would be back to school within a number of weeks. The realisation that it was all over only really came over the days since Friday’s announcement. We have had to come to terms with it while separated from our friends and still waiting for more information on what’s going to happen.

The stress of waiting for results hasn’t gone anywhere. We still have to wait for months to know what the next years of our lives will look like

Tomás, 18, Jigsaw volunteer Offaly

Waiting for exam results

Now, the catharsis of finishing the final exam is replaced with a feeling of being almost finished. It’s something I haven’t been able to shake yet, something I haven’t even fully processed yet. The pandemic has robbed sixth years across the country of closure in so many different ways. The stress of waiting for results hasn’t gone anywhere. We still have to wait for months to know what the next years of our lives will look like.

Loss of control

What has gone away is the feeling of control. We will be graded on work already submitted, on a new, alien system. There are huge gaps in knowledge in terms of how mock results, Junior Cert results and even the school we go to will affect out final grade. By removing any testing element, there is a feeling that our fates are, for now, entirely out of our hands.

We’ve all read the book up until the last chapter, then the remaining pages were torn out and will be given back, only in part, after months of waiting.

This isn’t anyone’s fault, and students across the country realise that. In some ways, that makes this even harder to process. It’s much easier when we have someone to blame. This was one of a number of options, all less than ideal, in less than ideal circumstances. With the end goal that our lives had, until last week, been built around now gone, there is a feeling of being unmoored, with another certainty taken from us. The end of our schooling has fizzled out in a world forever changing, and left an unrealised rite of passage for every sixth year in Ireland.