Monday 16 September 2019

Aoife Walsh: 'My first piece of advice to sixth years is to plan the Leaving Cert holiday for July'


Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh
Guidance counsellor Aoife Walsh

Aoife Walsh

As I return to school and begin to prep my sixth year students, holidays are never far from my mind. The Leaving Cert holiday has become something of an expectation for many. It may seem strange to be discussing this so early in the school year and it may even seem like a frivolous topic, but it is very important that exam candidates understand the need to be around when the results come out, and for a week or so afterwards.

So, the first thing I will say to my Leaving Cert students when I meet them this week is, whenever they choose to go on holidays next summer, do not plan for the 10 days around the release of results and CAO offers and, for those who may find themselves considering an appeal, the viewing of scripts.

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For most students, the first round of CAO offers will require very little work. They simply click to accept a desired place on their dream course.

But for others, there will be disappointment; some may see their dream course increase in points and move out of their reach. They should be close by their friends and family to benefit from the necessary emotional support.

They will also need to begin to organise other opportunities and make alternative plans. This can involve applying to view their exam scripts straight away, with a view to appealing, or attending interviews for other study options.

They may need to make new applications or visit their guidance counsellor. All of these things are so much more difficult, if not impossible, if you are away from home. Being away makes a difficult situation incredibly stressful for parents and students.

Even students who are delighted with their offer may need to use this time to view and book accommodation if moving away. This can present challenges, as the amount of available student accommodation does not meet demand.

No one wants to be in a situation where parents are trying to organise opportunities for students who are abroad. Taking instruction through email and over the phone is impossible and, at 18, these young people need to take responsibility for their next step. They must visit colleges, speak to advisors and discuss their plans. They must be here to do this.

Another factor to consider is the big changes to the timeline of results, offers and viewing of scripts/appeal applications which came into effect this year. The whole process has become much more compacted, which is extremely positive. The shortened timeframe allows for the outcome of applications for grade rechecks to be issued three weeks earlier.

The changes also provide greater transparency around marks achieved for different components and, for the first time, students can access the percentage marks achieved for individual components such as orals and practicals in advance of the viewings, and possible appeals. This is a great help to any student who is close to the next grade up, allowing for a thorough check to see if there might be any mistake that could lead to an upgrade.

No doubt, the increased transparency influenced the dramatic rise in the number of appeals this year. We don't know whether the increased level of application will translate into more upgrades and, potentially, more late college offers. It is also impossible to say whether there will be the same high demand for rechecks from next year's candidates. But if the greater transparency is triggering such a trend, candidates will want to be in a position to avail of it.

We don't know the exact timeline and arrangements for results, offers, viewing of scripts/appeals in August 2020, but it can hardly be any shorter than this year.

So while Leaving Cert holidays are becoming more popular than ever, like everything in careers, students should strive to achieve everything they have dreamed of, but plan for the worse case scenario as well.

My advice is to stay safe and consider July.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin

Irish Independent

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