‘Leaving Cert cancellation like a big pressure release all over’

The announcement that the 2020 Leaving Cert is cancelled and will be replaced by grading, based on classwork, with the option to sit written exams at a much later date, is a big decision, making this a difficult and uncertain few days for students, according to educator and farming enthusiast, Noel Daly.

Noel, who is principal of Portlaoise College said that the Leaving Cert, had been a big worry for many. “Some students will feel a little cheated with not getting the opportunity to sit the final exam that they had in sharp focus over the last two years.

“However, over the next couple of days when the dust settles on this decision, students and parents will be happy that it was the correct decision. Teachers know their students best of all. The vast majority of students always trusted the teachers grading over 5th and 6th year so they will also be happy with the final grade,” he said.

The Laois principal contended that the number opting to sit the written exam will be small. “The announcement is like a big pressure release all over and it is now up to teachers and school managers to do right by their students. It is definitely a decision in the best interest of our students and their wellbeing.”

For some students living in rural areas, there were broadband connection problems and it would have been unfair to expect students to complete exams online in many cases, said Noel, who lives near Timahoe with his wife Geraldine and their two children, Liam (13) and Grace (9).

“Question marks had hung over whether students would have been able to complete their practical exams in engineering; construction; art; and Leaving Cert Vocational Programme (LCVP); and also whether they would have been able to include their ag science project, for example. The Leaving Cert Applied students seemed to have been forgotten about  as a lot of their assessments are task-based and it has been a really difficult time for them.”

Teachers around the country had been spending a lot of time teaching online but the student motivation was not there in lots of cases, said Noel, who spends any spare weekend helping his brother Denis, his son Sean and daughter Claire who is studying agri-business in Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), on their dairy and beef enterprise.

There is merit at this stage for teachers and schools to be given the time and support to work on predictive grading in line with schools’ own standards and national standards which will be better than the level of stress and anxiety that was out there with the Leaving Cert, Noel said.

Care and attention

While the Leaving Certs have been hardest hit, all ages are affected, including those in sixth class at primary school at present, according to Noel.

“We have 168 new first years for September that will not have attended school since March 12. They will need a lot of care and attention with the transition to help them with their new school,” he said.

“Current fifth years moving into sixth year have missed a lot of time and will need to become the priority of not only teachers but also the department and state examinations commission for the Leaving Cert class of 2021.”

School management and teachers, Noel said, were pleased at the decision to finalise the Junior Cert before the summer holidays. “It gave finality and certainty for students and parents,” he said.

“In Portlaoise College, we run a very successful repeat Leaving Cert programme. We are currently planning that there will be a lot of interest for the coming year due to the uncertainty that some students faced with study as well as their college course and career choice.”

Gap year

The Post Leaving Cert (PLC) programme, which is available in Portlaoise College, provides a real option for students and offers a gap year which may be relished by more students this year, according to Noel.

“Having a Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI ) level 5 qualification with PLC gives a student great opportunities for progressing to a degree course or employment. It also provides students with a taste of what the career is like and helps with career choice.”

In 2018, Jane Hennigan from Kells, Co. Meath, told AgriLand how doing a PLC in science and laboratory techniques at Cavan Institute paved the way for her to study food and agri-business management at University College Dublin (UCD). She achieved 10 distinctions on the PLC.

Jane, who said that the PLC really helped with some of the modules in UCD, is now working with animal health company Interchem, mainly in marketing. She did her professional work experience as part of her UCD degree with Interchem and was then kept on for a permanent role by the company.

“Courses in Portlaoise Institute include: IT; engineering; health care and nursing; business; sport and recreation; child care; hair and beauty; art and digital media,” said Noel.

Young people can continue to farm while completing a PLC. They gain a qualification, can progress to a level 7 or level 8 course but can also work part-time on their home farm or locally to save for college.

Young people who live in rural areas have generally fared better than urban dwellers during lockdown, Noel said.

“I feel it is easier for children living in the country or on a farm under the current restrictions. They have more space and are generally used to staying near their homes.

“With the good weather, there are lots of areas that children can help out with on the farm such as: painting; helping with calves or lambs; picking stones or tidying – keeping in mind the risks and hazards associated with modern farming,” Noel said.

After an unprecedented year for education and Irish and global life, he has found that helping out on the farm provides a great outlet. “My brother milks 120 cows, all British Friesians, rearing all his own replacements and finishing all male stock at 24 months.

“I generally help out with tractor work. I previously taught engineering and have an interest in this area and it has to be Massey,” Noel said. He used his experiences on the farm for a video that was part of the school’s ‘Happiness at Home’ competition.

“We, in Portlaoise College, are trying to be as innovative as possible in staying connected with students and parents during Covid-19,” said Noel. “We are doing our end of year awards online and also the Leaving Cert graduation online.”