'Leaving' is just the beginning of education, as higher qualifications mean higher salaries
Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30
The timing is awful: just as the Euros are about to get under way and the sunshine promises to return. But it's one of those rites of passage that has to be gone through. The Leaving Cert is probably a bit of a misnomer anyway - the vast majority of those beginning their exams this morning won't be leaving the education system for good, as they will be back in the autumn, or even later in life.
Everybody knows that it's an important milestone on a young person's educational journey, but it's not the only one they will pass. More than half will use the results to go directly into college, a sizeable number will enrol on further education courses, others will avail of the expanding apprenticeship opportunities, some will repeat the Leaving and a minority will emigrate or go directly into the labour market.
Unfortunately, not all of the latter group will make the successful transition into jobs and some will end up unemployed.
In fact, the ones who are usually overlooked at this time of the year are the NEETs - those young people who are not in employment, education or training.
We have quite a number of them in this country and the longer they remain in that category, the harder it is for them to get a foothold back into the worlds of work and study.
Many NEETs have poor qualifications in a society where they matter.
The statistics show, time and time again, that those with a Leaving Cert do better than those with lower or no qualifications in the labour market; that those with a further education qualification do better than those with a Leaving Cert and those with a degree do best of all and earn more.
Of course, there are many exceptions - we all know of the self-made millionaire who dropped out of school early - but as a general rule of thumb, higher qualifications equal higher salaries.
This holds true especially in Ireland, as OECD data has shown consistently that the earnings 'premium' attached to a degree is greater here than in the majority of developed countries.
Most young people instinctively know this, which is why they study so hard for their Leaving - a few to the point of exhaustion.
They have been preparing for this big day for the past few years. That preparation is all history now and for the exams marathon they need to be focused and to use their time to best effect.
They've had no end of warnings about getting to the exam hall in plenty of time, reading the papers properly, etc.
But afterwards, instead of lengthy post mortems, they would be better off going for a brisk walk, a swim or a short cycle to relieve the clutter in the brain.
And their parents have heard plenty of advice about giving them space, a little TLC, and to provide lots of food in the fridge for the exam 'grazers'.
Instead of nudging and gently supporting them as most do, some parents push their children too hard and in August will judge them by the 'points' they get for college entry.
They're the very same parents who rail against the fact that the CAO won't issue its first round of offers on the same day the Leaving Cert results come out.
Certainly, many students face an anxious few days in the gap between the results and the offers. But the Leaving is not solely a sifting system for entry to college and the exam grades achieved are worth acknowledging and celebrating in their own right, rather than being reduced to the question: 'How many points did you get?'
To suggest the Leaving is merely a clearing house for higher education insults the thousands who do not apply for college entry and who have other plans after they leave second-level schooling.
As Betty McLaughlin, president of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, put it: "Examinations and results neither define nor detract from the wonderful young people they are, and the great citizens they will become. There are vast arrays of opportunities ahead through their lifetime for the acquisition of further education and training and the development of new skills."
She's right. And a recent report from the Department of Education and Skills gives very detailed information about what happened to those who finished the Leaving in 2011.
Over half (52.3pc) went on to higher education, and a further 28.2pc progressed to further education/training or continued second-level education. Some of those who went into further education subsequently went on to third-level colleges. Of those school completers who did not continue in the education sector, approximately 7pc (6.9pc) of the total cohort were seen to have had 'social welfare activity' at the end of December 2011 - which is an official way of saying they were on the dole - and 7.3pc had employment activity, which is officialise for saying they were working.
It's a far cry from the day when the Leaving Cert was the height of a young person's educational ambition. For most, nowadays, it's no longer a 'leaving' cert but a 'staying on' cert.