The Leaving Certificate is tough enough at the best of times but this year it's been a nightmare for 60,000 young people. The examination wasn't held during the summer despite assurances from the then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that it would go ahead "by hook or by crook".
Instead students had to get used to the idea of calculated grades, which are better than nothing. Quite how fair and accurate they are will be known when the calculations are published. The initial hope was that they would be released as near as possible to the normal results day in mid-August.
Now that date is being pushed back to early September, which has implications for the start of term in all further and higher education colleges. It also affects those who want to go into apprenticeships or directly into the workplace. All these delays and uncertainties add to the stress of students.
Parents and students will need reassurances about the arrangements on campus, even if what is offered is a blend of on-site and online teaching. A roadmap to reopening will be available in the near future, which will offer greater clarity.
Not surprisingly, the new Minister for Further and Higher Education, Simon Harris, will need additional funds to ensure all colleges are able to meet Covid-19 requirements in terms of social distancing, cleaning, staffing, etc.
He is also hoping to get a large chunk of money as part of this month's jobs stimulus package. Much of this will go on courses in the further education and training (FET) area, which is clearly moving up the Government's priority list for investment.
The minister fairly nailed his colours to the FET mast yesterday at the launch of a new strategy by SOLAS, the training and employment authority. He wants to see a greater share of school leavers choosing FET or apprenticeships as their first destination rather than university.
"Conversations about third-level education have been confined to discussions about CAO applications, points and university degrees. Further education has been the uninvited guest to the debates around the dinner tables about what to do after the Leaving Cert. We need to change all that," the minister has said.
The strategy document argues also that as work changes through technological advances and emerging new industries we need to dip in and out of courses and training all our working lives. Covid-19 and Brexit will bring about major shifts in the future of work for people, who are also living longer. As the report says: "The idea that a burst of education qualifications for someone in their early 20s can be sufficient to see them through their career no longer seems feasible."
The minister suggested yesterday that further education is stepping out the shadows and taking its rightful place right next to higher education. Not before time. But it must also become, as the foreword to the strategy says, "louder and prouder" so more people become aware of the opportunities available to learn, develop and progress.