Tuesday 12 December 2017

Why July is the time for Leaving Cert holiday

Aoife Walsh, guidance counsellor. Photo: Tony Gavin
Aoife Walsh, guidance counsellor. Photo: Tony Gavin

Aoife Walsh

Every year, I meet a new group of sixth years on the first day of school. Every year I attend their assembly to welcome them back and run through some important information on the format of their guidance education in sixth year. For example 'your careers talk will be on this day', 'we will be attending these events', 'if you are applying to UCAS' etc. But, each year I begin with the same warning - one that neither my teaching colleagues nor the students expect. The first item on my list for my sixth year students is always the Leaving Cert holiday.

It may seem very strange to discuss this celebration on the first day back, and it may seem that such a topic has no place in school but, as we finish up the CAO season with the previous year's group, this issue is always fresh on my mind.

What I say to my students is 'if you are booking a post Leaving Cert holiday, it is essential that you do not book this trip for the week of the CAO offers'.

Next year, the exams start on Wednesday June 7, and it is likely. although not confirmed, that the results will issue on Wednesday August 16 and that the CAO Round One offers will follow on Monday, August 21.

For school-leavers, the week after the results may seem like the perfect week to book a holiday. Jetting off right after they receive the results they have spent two years working to achieve probably seems like the perfect way to celebrate and to spend some time with school friends before they all begin new chapters in their lives.

Also, planning this holiday for the end of summer gives young people time to earn some money and ensure they are back in time for the beginning of college. So far, so logical.

All most students will have to do that week is to collect their results, celebrate their achievement with family and friends and happily click 'accept' on their CAO offer.

But, for some, there will be disappointment: some will be upset by their results, especially when they first see them; some will want to apply to view their exam scripts straight away; some will need to attend interviews and make other plans as it becomes clear they are unlikely to receive their dream offer.

All of these things are so much more difficult if you are away from home. Being abroad makes a difficult situation incredibly stressful for parents and students. Not only is it more difficult to cope emotionally if you are away from your support structure, but it becomes more difficult to seek advice and to organise alternative options, of which there will be many.

Even students who are delighted with their offer may need to use this time to view and book accommodation, if the transition to college means a move away from home. This can cause some students considerable 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 a student who is abroad. Taking instruction through email and over the phone is impossible and really, at 18, young people need to take responsibility for their next step. They may need to visit colleges, speak to advisors and discuss their plans. They must be here to do this.

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

So, I am advising my students to enjoy their holiday - but to be safe and consider July.

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

Q.  I did not do as well in ‘honours’ Irish as I expected in my 5th year exams. Now I’m in 6th year and worried that doing ‘honours’ will take up far too much of my time to get it to a level I will be happy with. Should I just drop now?

A. As a general rule we should always strive to take as many higher level subjects and achieve the highest grades we can. It always makes me hugely uncomfortable when I hear students say things like: ‘I’m not counting that subject.’ This  implies that the student is not going to work at that subject because we only include our best six subjects for points when it comes to the CAO. We do not know how the year is going to go, and we do not know how the exam will go. So it is remiss to decide which subjects you will be successful in so early in the year.

It is difficult to know whether you should drop a level in a subject without knowing how you performed in your summer exam and how much work was needed to achieve this. If you are ‘failing’ and you are working very hard, then yes it may be time to drop to ordinary level. If you think you could do a bit more, then, perhaps, consider this before you commit to changing levels, which can be done at any stage of the year.

If you are not sure I suggest staying with the higher level for another little while. Monitor the amount of study you are doing and be honest about how hard you are working. Don’t give the subject excess time but give it as much as you do any other.

If your grades improve then I think it is worth staying with the higher level. If you are still at risk of ‘failing’ after a number of weeks it may be time to consider dropping. Remember this year students will be awarded points for achieving 30-39pc in a higher level exam and H7s will be acceptable for entry to most courses so there will be less risk involved for students who wish to try the higher level in any subject in 2017. 

Important dates


* CAO 2016 - Round Two Acceptances Closing Date

* Closing Date for Receipt of Leaving Cert and & Leavig Cert Applied Appeals

September 13

* Open Days (2 Days) - St Mary's University College, Belfast


* Graduate Medical School Admissions Test - GAMSAT Irl

* Graduate Medical School Admissions Test - GAMSAT UK

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