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Leaving Cert Mamma – The First Day

Leaving Cert – Rite of Passage Feel

The first day of the Leaving Cert dawns and it has a real rite of passage feel about it.Clothes laid out, pencils erasers and pens in the suggested clear zip lock plastic bag, watch on wrist, favourite breakfast on the go. Alarm clock zinging off. You d think wouldnt ya?

Not in our house.

Sleepless in Sandymount

Here we had a sleepless night despite copious cups of chamomile tea and a herbal sleep potion. My student woke at four feeling concerned about not being able to sleep despite calming music and early to bed and long bath.

Sit the Leaving Cert in School  Uniform?

We had the option of wearing or not wearing uniform. Big decision. Yes No Yes No. Of course the uniform had already been dibbed by his younger brother, as I had not counted on its requirement for the Leaving Cert. I was busy wrestling it out of the kid brother’s chest of drawers and planning on lying that he had absolutely not worn it last week  . . . . when indecision struck. “No” to the uniform. Definitely “No”,  and the the deadly sentence “I’ll decide tomorrow morning”. Oh Noooooooo.

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In the morning we heard “where are my pants?”, “the ones with the stripe”. Frantic throwing of laundry everywhere searching for pants with the stripe. THE pants with the stripe not found, but alternative pants with a stripe found. Thankfully they are acceptable. TICK TOCK TUCK TOCK. Breakfast is served and surprisingly eaten. Last minute run to Tesco for fizzy water. Label hastily removed. This is what the ban on water was about. No bottles with labels allowed in case you had written all the answers (to the English Comprehension) on the inside of the label! We head into the car. No chewing gum. Skid up to Tesco. Chewing gum purchased. Trundle down the coast road. “You do have a watch right”, I sez. Checking of pockets “No”. I surrender my watch.

“Call me when you are out!” I say. “Oh no I have no more credit”. Credit organised with other half sitting at home on the computer.

We arrive at the school, everyone else in uniform. Wait no, Two other cool dudes in smart track suit bottoms with THE stripe. It s all cool. He walks in. I realise I have done it I have got him this far.

It’s gonna happen. English Paper 1

Que Sera Sera

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I turn on Lyric Radio. Its Doris Day and she is singing “Que Sera Sera”. I turn it up loud. Its a fitting song for a fitting moment. For me it brings tears and I remember my long lost dad used to sing that to me all the time when I was young. I wonder if he is watching over the grandson he never knew. I hope so.

Taking your mind off it and staying healthy

I decide to go to Pilates. A very good call as I completely forgot about the Leaving Cert. I met a long lost friend and we decide to visit the swimming pool in the sports centre and then the jacuzzi and sure whilst we were at it why not the steam room. We were on our way to the hot room when I thought better check time on the clock (being as I have no watch right!). OMG the exam has just finished. I break the world record from getting from the steam room in the sports centre to the school; 14 minutes. I am grossly late but forgiven.

How did you do?

So the awkward moment arrives.


Surprisingly I get a full run down. I am delighted to hear that the agreed timing for each question has been adhered to even though it meant that one questions remained slightly unfinished.

So mammas, when your student tells you what they did and what they answered and how the answered, even if you know that these are very dodgy answers there is no merit what so ever in telling your student this. Your goal is to keep them on a steady ship to encourage them and to keep them in a good and balanced state of mind for the next exam. Nod, Smile, Praise, Encourage.



If your child only had one exam on the first day be grateful. Anyone doing Home Economics  had two exams today and anyone doing Engineering will have two exams tomorrow. More on that in the next blog. In the meantime its back to the chamomile tea. Actually I bought three different types of soothing tea today. We tried them all out this afternoon and they all tasted decent. I ll let you know which if any of them help my student sleep!

So first day over and we all survived. One less exam until we say goodbye to the Leaving Cert!

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Exams Completed: 1 Exams Left to go: 10

Subjects Completed: 0 Subjects Left to go: 8


Leaving Cert Mamma – Taking care of yourself



The Leaving Certificate period is definitely a tense time, no doubt about it. Its stressful and tense for those that are sitting the exam as well as for those who are supporting them. Tensions rise and tempers fray. The biggest challenge that I have found throughout the run up to the Leaving Certificate has been to what extent I am going to sit back and let my son make his own decisions and to what extent I am going to wade in and say “uh uh that s not the way things are gonna be”. In the back of your mind you are thinking about the immense disappointment that awaits if things turn out so much more badly than they anticipated (and the associated grief and hassle for the rest of the family of course), but on the other hand you know you have to trust them to make their own decisions and own the consequences. I found this particularly hard. I worked in academia and trained people on passing exams. I used to set final university exams and I know how they need to be answered and revised for.

Investing in Trust

The hard task of parenting here is to invest in trust. To trust that your child is anchored to the wisdom of the Universe and that they are evolving in exactly the way that they need to. The task here is to curb your rescuing tendencies! Its hard!

Investing in Yourself


As a parent you will be tested, you will be asked to produce things at the last minute, you will be asked to make unusual things to eat at odd times, to drive to far flung shops and you that will be the butt of their frustration their anger and their disappointment. The key here is to find a harmonious way of engaging with this and not allowing your tension to overflow and unbalance them. The best way to do this is to invest in yourself. To build a strong foundation from which you can nourish and support your young person.


Finding your support during the Leaving Cert as a parent


Different people will do this in different ways, whether its coffee with a friend, whether it s a run on the beach or a yoga class or maybe its a treatment such as acupuncture or osteopathy or a massage or perhaps its a treat to show that you are caring for and valuing yourself. In order to support others you must be in a position to support yourself. So if your child is doing the leaving cert find a way to support yourself. I found that my child’s behaviour changed due to the pressure of the Leaving Cert. It started to change during the intense time of the orals and practical exams in March and April which were also times that he had to attend for the interviews and auditions associated with restricted courses. I found myself parked on  Sandymount Strand one afternoon having what can only be described as a panic attack and I realised that there was no one there to talk to and no one else whose business this was aside from me. It was a fairly cathartic moment and I decided that because I could see this experience was going to be incredibly difficult for my son I was going to have to seriously support myself, and I finally took out my phone and made that appointment for the acupuncturist that I had been meaning to make for the last three years. I have budgeted so that I am prioritising my self care over items that I might think I need or want such trips out or meals out or clothes or shoes! But of course clothes shoes and meals out may be the ticket for someone else. There is no one size fits all. just make sure you know what you need and you get it!

12 hours to go to the Leaving Cert 2019

#leavingcertmammaSo we are just 12 hours from the Leaving Certificate now. Today we all received a big email from the school’s exam coordinator detailing all the information you could possibly want to know about the logistics of sitting the Leaving Cert, they include the things everyone knows such as; NO CHEATING as well as unusual things such as no clear water bottles. Not sure if this goes against the school’s no plastic policy or whether there is some bizarre way you can cheat with a water bottle. Or maybe the school anticipates a riot between rival football team supporters in the main exam hall.

No water bottles in the exam


Then there is the instruction about uniform. You may or may not wear your uniform, but if you don’t you must dress appropriately for the occasion. Not sure what appropriate dress code for the Leaving Certificate is and more to the point inappropriate dress code! I d assume evening or beach wear would be definitely out!

Get a good night’s sleep

Then we are facing into the first night of sleep. That night when you know that the next morning the Leaving Certificate awaits you. Everyone says “get a good night’s sleep”. Pretty impossible really for most ids knowing what lies ahead. I have invested in a very large box of chamomille tea and also in a box of lemon verbana and lemon balm tea! I was also lucky enough to have wonderful friends who between them got a herbal mix for supporting a good night sleep to our door. Thank you Dil and Helen!

Tomorrow the adventure starts!

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Exams Completed: 0 Exams Left to go: 11

Subjects Completed: Subjects Left to go: 8

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Leaving Cert Mamma – The run up


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Leaving Cert English

First of all let me be really clear about one thing. I never wanted my son to do the Leaving Certificate (LC). I had hoped he would do the International Baccalaureate (IB). I even placed him in one of the few schools in Ireland that offers that option. But children are children and they want to do what their friends are doing, so here we are on the eve of the Leaving Certificate.

Why did I not want my son to sit the LC? Primarily because of the stress it puts on young people to regurgitate so much rote learned information, secondly because of the limited skill set they acquire by doing the exams and finally because there is no easy option to repeat it which makes the undertaking even more stressful as there is no safety net to fall back on.

Leaving Cert and Stress

It puts an incredible amount of unnecessary stress on young people at a time of their lives when they are already going through enough stress and emotional turmoil thank you very much. All exams are stressful, but the Leaving Certificate comes as an all in one package that requires a lot of rote learning over a wide range of subjects and can only be done in one sitting over a period of just over two weeks. It’s an insane way to assess whether a young person has the required understanding knowledge or skill set to progress further in life. Late puberty is a difficult time for kids, perhaps more so now than before. The pressure that kids are placed under with respect to image and self esteem is intense and is of course fuelled by social media, the last thing most of them need is more stress.

Leaving Cert Repeats

If one of the exams doesn’t pan out as expected, it can’t simply be repeated. The entire  Leaving Certificate has to be repeated. Furthermore, young people cannot do this at school in the same way that they can in other countries and neither can they resit the Leaving Certificate in a few months when all that shallowly learnt knowledge is till fresh in their head. No, they have to wait an entire year and sit all six subjects again. Pure madness and pure stress.

The rationale? Well people might just do two subjects a year over three years and get all H1 s. Yes and so what? Pretty much every other type of learning that we do in life is done piecemeal, so why not this? I am sure that the third level sector could magic up some way of giving bonus points to one sitting if they wanted to; there are a lot of brainy academics there after all. Lets face it, once you are 23 years old the University sector  actually doesn’t even care if you have a Leaving Certificate at all provided you have demonstrated adequate life experience. Meanwhile, if you wanted to enter an Irish University having done your A levels there is no issue with having done one a year if that is what you did. Such warped logic that causes so much stress for young people.

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What skills does the Leaving Cert give us?

The LC as a final graduating school examination is so arduous and so utterly inapplicable or reflective of skills that young adults actually need such as analytical skills, team based approaches and more importantly than anything emotional intelligence. In most other countries young people have to demonstrate continuous understanding of the subjects they are studying, and also have a far greater opportunity to demonstrate individuality and uniqueness and personal opinion. You wouldn’t dare do that in the LC; it might lose you marks!

The Leaving Cert Industry

The Leaving Certificate generates a whole industry around it too. The first of those is the education system itself. Schools vie for top places on the leader board of points acquired in the leaving certificate and parents crave places in those schools because big points means good college places which surely must mean good jobs and successful offspring and successful parenting! Right? Schools with high places on the leader board focus a lot of 5th and 6th year on testing, on question answering, on rote questions, on predictive question spotting and the like. Navigating the LC becomes more about strategy than understanding knowledge passion or wisdom. Those children with access to the strategies will undoubtedly do better. Bestowing of merit praise and worth on the kids that do well of course duly follow in the schools which have focused so intensely on LC preparation. Kid’s worth and their value to the school are ranked and noted. Some schools offer prizes to high achieving children.

Next the vast array of books and websites and guides that help you add finesse to your strategy. Parents anxious to support their children go ahead and buy these. I swore I never would, but of course I did. I, like any other parent would do anything to help my child through this gruesome rite of passage. Finally, of course the grinds. Again parents seeing the anxiety that the LC is provoking within their children opt for this. Some parents feel that their children are just not receiving enough guidance in school to navigate the exams. God forbid they were only receiving an education. So there are all year courses, Christmas courses, Mid term courses, Easter Courses and even crash courses. Again I swore I would never engage with this industry, but I did. My son needed help, and I turned to the structure of these courses in the holidays to try to keep some sense of momentum going. Its been a holy hell.

Then of course there is the sub industry of getting assessments. Validated assessments for a wide variety of physical and emotional conditions can change the way you might sit your exams which can be very helpful for some kids and can shave a large percentage of points off University requirements. The problem is that the Public School Intervention teams can’t cope with the number of assessments they are expected to approve and sign off on, so parents are obliged to go privately. I drew the line here. Whilst its obvious my son has challenges in processing some directions and understanding instructions or comprehensions, something identified in primary school, I didn’t pursue it with formal assessments. He tells me half his class have exemptions and exclusions and special dispensations and are on the DARE program for University entry, so there is definitely a thriving industry filling in the gap that the public system cant cope with.

Leaving Cert and Self esteem

Undertaking the LC stratifies kids into groups of those who will be successful (referred to I believe as 600 pointers or 500 pointers), to those who wont be as successful. The children who achieve well below the average for the school are rarely referred to with pride in any annual report. They are there to fill the register. The stodgy carb filler in the Sunday Lunch. Don’t tell me for one second that kids aren’t aware of this stratifying and judgment of them as human beings. It can’t be good for their mental and emotional health and it isn’t something that a focus on mental well being for a day, or a week or a month in school is going to easily lighten or shift.

All kids subject to that regime end up viewing their worth, or a part of their worth in these exam results. That is not exactly healthy. It applies equally to those kids that are high exam achievers and to those that are low exam achievers. Its part of our education system that we encourage our youth to value themselves on external achievement rather than on internal understanding stability and self worth. Any self help book you pick up will emphatically state that the route  to self esteem does not come from external validation and external achievements. Self esteem comes from connecting with yourself, and  from realising your value from the inside not from the outside in, yet on we go with the Leaving Cert despite the emotional dangers it places on children. Needless to say, this is in addition to the emotional stress of actually sitting the exams, which for some children is extreme.The lead up is incredibly stressful and some kids just are unable to cope. Many children I know a year ahead of my son went to counselling because they were unable to cope, some children I know dropped out of school altogether because they couldn’t face the stress. It’s not surprising to hear some parents I know going as far as to call it state sanctioned child abuse.

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Leaving Certificate results

Leaving cert and higher education

So our kids will go through all this in the next three weeks. And the end game? When its all done and dusted and most of them arrive in a 3rd level course. What then?

For 10 years I lectured in Trinity College, University of Dublin in an Associate Professor’s position and I saw the first year student entrants that the Leaving Certificate produced. The students had all done well in the LC else they wouldn’t have gotten to Trinity, but the capacity for insight, for analysis and for independent thinking was disappointing and lagged significantly behind students that had done the A level exams in the UK. I would regularly get asked if they could use their LC crib notes or if I would be providing revision notes. Answer no and no. The first months of their university career was really about de-schooling them from spoon feeding, from shallow learning and rote answers! I am not saying that some of the facts they learnt were of no use, just that the way those facts were learnt did not serve them well in further education where the emphasis is on analytical thinking, not mindless regurgitation.

Leaving cert and shallow learning

Shallow learners have to become deep learners and that can be very hard for many students as the LC does not really expose our students to that. There is a very limited focus on deep learning, instead the focus is on shallow learning and beating the system to gain points eg “rewrite the maths question and you will get a point”. Then of course there is the memory game aspect of it. The exam favours the short term shallow learning of the facts re-expressed in a way that will maximise marks. The result: a nation of shallow learners all of whom hated their Leaving Cert experience, and many of whom still have nightmares about the stress of it years later during those first few weeks of June!

To all those parents supporting their children in the Leaving Certificate Exams over the next few weeks, I hope that you will be supporting yourselves. More on that in my next blog. Good luck to all those facing into their first exam. Nothing else in life will be as hard or ask so much of you.

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Exams Completed: 0 Exams Left to go: 11

Subjects Completed: 0 Subjects Left to go: 8