Saturday 1 October 2016

Leaving Cert season: an endurance test for the whole family

Published 13/04/2015 | 02:30

The only good thing to be said about The Leaving is that it ends
The only good thing to be said about The Leaving is that it ends

The Leaving Cert season is upon us again, now that Easter is over.

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The pressure will be boiling over. Mothers will be making special soups made from lentils and goodness vegetables to build up the students. Fathers will be driving to daily grinds and pop-up revision courses.

The Nana will burn more wax in the church than the quality control department in Madame Tussauds and the grandfather's annual Leaving Cert dream will see him kicking the duvet up to the ceiling from involuntary leg movements brought on by the trickiness of question 7 in the Maths Paper 2, of 1953.

The only good thing to be said about The Leaving is that it ends.

Parents suffer just as much anxiety as the kids. And more. Many parents are like Hollywood mothers and live their wasted youth all over again, vicariously through their kids.

I seem to have read somewhere about the father who went looking for the person who set the hard Maths 2 or English 1, or it could have been Irish 1 and English 2, all of which sound suspiciously like the results of a group of death in the European Championship.

The father was going to do the question setter a good deal of harm, he said.

Many fathers are Hollywood mothers. They blame the fact they haven't a clue what the kids are studying on the poor teachers.

The Leaving never leaves us. I still get the Leaving Dreams. So maybe I imagined the whole thing about the crazed father hunting down the paper setters because his kid's poet didn't come up.

Only the other day, I met a man who was in school with me, and a great shock it was too, for I was at his funeral during last year's Leaving Cert. I had this vague feeling that we prayed for him no end and gave him the usual praise reserved only for the dead.

But it must have been a dream because my old school companion asked me for the loan of a twenty, which reminded me that he was a serial tapper in the old days. It could well be that the inner accountant in me killed him off.

The worst thing is that the Leaving Cert dreams last even longer than the bloody exams, which go on forever, particularly if the students are studying Applied Aramaic or some obscure subject.

I haven't seen him since, the tapper I killed off in the dream. The twenty was worth it to be rid of him. He was hard going, always on about how smart he was, with stunning facts like how many eggs a cricket could lay, even though we all knew there wasn't a hope of crickets coming up in Biology.

The Leaving isn't the place for those who store up useless information.

Apart from the fact that you'll get no one to sit near you in the pub when you grow into full adulthood, the results will suffer in a direct ratio to the amount of useless information stored in your head.

The Leaving is a ruthless business. It's all about results. And the parents' job is like that of a football coach. We must provide the optimum conditions for the mind athletes to excel. Emotional support and love go a long way but getting the logistics right is equally important. The exam must be planned like a military operation.

I often feel parents do not take this side of the education of their kids seriously enough.

There will be lows in most exams, a day when the student feels it hasn't gone quite right. So you tell your charge to lock the bad day up in a box and move on to the next one. This is the way Ronan O'Gara and Jonathan Sexton operate. When they miss a kick, they banish the mistake to another, far-away place, and kick the next one between the posts.

The Department of Education has the Leaving Cert students playing against the wind in both halves. Here's the schedule for a young lad whose mother contacted us. The Leaving Certificate Oral Tests are to be held from April 13 to April 24, and the main exam starts in June.

The orals are right in the middle of the key revision. The boy is good at languages and so he has three orals to contend with in the space of a couple of weeks. He's trying to finish a history project. Another lad has an engineering submission, an agricultural science project and two orals.

Why is it these exams, which could well shape the future of a young person's career, cannot be staggered? Some of the practicals could be completed before Christmas. The Leaving has become a test of endurance. The pressure is too much, too soon and so it is not a fair test.

But it's on now and the students have to make the most of the time left.

Parents have to think their way through the exams. Be kind, careful and make life easier for your kids. You may have to put up with the occasional Leaving Cert tantrum.

There's life after Leaving. My Dad failed first time around and now they're studying his plays for the exams. But he did repeat, and passed the following year.

Irish Independent

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