Victoria White: We need to humanise the Leaving Cert and change the CAO system

Victoria White: We need to humanise the Leaving Cert and change the CAO system

Some 61,000 Leaving Cert students have sweated through two months of pointless study, writes Victoria White

Victoria White: We need to humanise the Leaving Cert and change the CAO system
Disappointed students can sit the Leaving Certificate when the health advice allows and go to college later. Picture: Mark Stedman/RollingNews.ie

When my son finally walks through the gates of some college some time in the Autumn I will burst with pride, not because his teachers predicted he would get enough points but because I now know how brave and resilient he is.

I’m humbled by his attitude to the cancellation of the Leaving Certificate.

He says he has confidence in his teachers.

He says he’s put a range of options on his CAO form and he’ll take what he gets.

He’s 19 already and he doesn’t want to hang around. He just wants to go to college.

Until this day last week he was studying like mad in his attic room. But by lunch-time last Thursday he read the signs, downed tools and went out into the sun.

When it was announced last Friday that his Leaving Certificate grades would be predicted by his teachers he expressed no resentment about the two months he’s spent swotting since the schools closed.

At least it kept him in lockdown, he said. He made no protests about the high points he might have got with all that study.

No. He just accepted it all and is hoping for the best. He doesn’t want to be a doctor or a dentist or a physiotherapist or a nurse. He won’t have his career hopes for a lifetime dashed if he gets one course rather than another.

He knows what he’d prefer but he’s very likely one of the large percent of people whose careers do not reflect what they studied in college: estimated at 73% in the US and 50% in the UK. I don’t believe it will make a blind bit of difference to the success of his future life which of his CAO options he gets.

The marginal cases will be the hard ones: how does a school predict a wipe-out at Leaving Certificate? At the other end of the scale are the diligent students who narrowly miss out on their desired courses. Among them may be some who have repeated and some whose parents have paid out for grind schools.

I know one such student who was delighted when the Leaving Cert was postponed until July 29th because she had more time to study to get the points for the medical course for which she has been studying for three years.

Will her parents sue the school or the State if she doesn’t get it?

I hope not.

I hope the “legal vulnerabilities” the Attorney General sees in the plan are exploited by none of us.

This is a global pandemic.

Victoria White: We need to humanise the Leaving Cert and change the CAO system
Chief Inspector at the Deparment of Education and Skills Harold Hislop (left) and Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh during a media briefing in Government Buildings Dublin (Leon Farrell/PA Wire)

We are “tightly knit”, to quote Minister Mc Hugh. External marking helps ensure we can stay that way but still be a meritocracy.

To honour the Class of 2020, we must now commit to doing two things: humanising the exam and changing the CAO system.

Our own National Council for Curriculum and Assessment was due to suggest reforms to Minister Mc Hugh this Spring Their report published in December last contains ideas such as modular courses in which credits are built up, exams spread over Fifth and Sixth years, and a reduction in the number of mandatory subjects (I am an Gaelgoir but I would make Irish compulsory only to Junior Certificate level)..

It contains the hugely intelligent suggestion that the method of assessment should vary more depending on the course in question: computer-based assessment for one, in-class projects for another, an exam in Fifth Year for another.

There is an urgent plea in the Report for time and money to be allocated to the on-going training of our teachers if we are not to squander them as a resource.

There is no reason to scorn the example of other countries such as France, whose “Baccelaureate” dates from the time of Napoleon and where course work will from next year constitute 40% of the final year mark.

In the UK universities routinely make provisional offers to students based on predicted grades, a personal statement and sometimes an interview. This year they have 18 of the 100 highest ranked universities in the world, while we have none.

The biggest issue the Senior Cycle in Ireland faces is the abdication by third level institutions of all responsibility for choosing their intake. How is it that these power houses of learning can’t between them evolve a fair mechanism for admitting the students best adapted to particular courses?

The “backwash” from the CAO system “cripples” the Senior Cycle, as one respondent says in the NCCA Report. It will cripple a reformed Leaving Certificate if it is not reformed itself.

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