The cancellation of this years Leaving Certificate examination took us all by surprise.
Of course a decision of this magnitude is not taken lightly, in fact Minister McHugh said it was ‘with a heavy heart’ that he made his recommendation to the Daíl.
We are in the middle of unprecedented times, so an unprecedented decision had to be made.
Quite simply, there was no good option.
I suppose I always held on to the hope that they would somehow mange to find some way to allow the students to sit the exam.
But safety is paramount and a decision had to be made.
For far too long our students had been languishing in a torturous limbo. Their mental health impacted by the uncertainty of it all.
And of course with uncertainty comes the rumour mill. The students were bombarded on a daily basis for the last 8 weeks with incredible amounts of inaccurate information about the exams.
This further exacerbated their sense of confusion.
I felt, at times, that these students really didn’t have a solid advocate in this midst of all these talks because the information that was coming out was piece meal and opaque.
The voice that should have been the loudest, that of the students, was silent.
What the students needed at that time was complete transparency.
This would have prevented the dissemination of all that misinformation and also would have made them feel like they were being involved in the decision making process.
But, again, I know none of this was easy.
Now that it has been cancelled, I think students are finally able to take a breath.
But I still feel for them. The leaving Certificate is a right of passage.
It is a monumental moment in a teenager’s journey towards adulthood.
I’m sure not everyone sees it that way, but it is an exam that stays with you for the rest of your life.
I can hardly remember any of my college exams, of which there were many, but I vividly recall what I had for breakfast before English paper 1 in 1995.
That has been taken from them now and in it’s place predictive grading.
I suppose the good news for students is; a report written by Dr Gill Wyness for the University And College Union in England found that 75% of predictive grades are inflated or over predicted.
This would point to the inherent bias that is in a process like predictive grading.
Teacher Union’s, on this island, have fought this system for many years because they know the implicit and explicit pressures that teachers come under when they are the ones charged with predicting a student’s grade.
It’s a flawed process, we know that. But seems to be the only option available currently.
So we have to embrace it now.
There are still many uncertainties remaining for students.
When I did my leaving Certificate I taught myself three subjects.
What happens to that student? How will someone predict their grade when they do not have a teacher? Many students are doing foreign languages that do not have a teacher, like Arabic? Will they receive a grade for that subject and for all that hard work? And who will give it? And what about the student that missed exams during the year due to illness or family difficulties? Where do they stand? So, there are still some unanswered questions and there are still students out there whose future hangs in the balance.
But it is important for students to know that teachers alone will not be the ones to decide the grade, other factors will be present. The school principal will be the one to approve the grades of each student in the school.
This data will then be given to the special unit that has been designed to process the information.
Essentially to ensure the bell curve is intact. This attempt to nationally standardise this years result is a worthy endeavour but in practice it’s hard not to see it as just optics.
The consequences of this cancellation with reverberate long into the future and will have many legal challenges to face.
If you have a young adult at home who has been living this nightmare over the last two months it is important that you help them manage their emotions around it all.
The decision is out of their hands currently, there will be an appeals process if they are unsatisfied with their result.
It is important now to tell them to relax, take a breath and look at the stats – predictive grades are generally inflated so that should bring some piece of mind to all the family.
You have all been through a rollercoaster of emotions.
Take some time now, and get some space from all the confusion and anxiety that has been in the family. You all deserve it.