Ruairi Quinn: Good luck in the next chapter -- a world away from the school yard

I sat my Leaving Cert in 1964. While that was more than 45 years ago, I do still remember the anticipation of waiting for the results. This morning will be filled with nerves not just for the 55,550 students who sweated over their exams in June, but also for their families and loved ones.

Ruairi Quinn

The pressure on today's Leaving Cert students is much higher than when I sat the exams. In those days, there was no points system and a pass Leaving Cert was all that was needed to enter the Cork, Dublin and Galway Colleges of the National University of Ireland.

If you were Catholic you needed to get permission to attend Trinity College.

Now, there are a host of third-level options available to our young people, from the seven universities, to the 18 Institutes of Technology (IoTs) and of course a raft of further education and training places. But, competition is tough.

For the class of '64, only 10pc of us went on to university or other third-level colleges such as the Royal College of Surgeons, what is now the Dublin Institute of Technology or the National College of Art and Design.

Around 65pc of the class of 2011 will go on to third level, not to mention the other mature and part-time students who will join them. These high figures are encouraging and very much in line with the Government's ambition to build a knowledge economy. We are well on track to meet the target set by the National Skills Strategy of 72pc of school leavers participating in third level by 2020.

Of course, part of the reason for this is the much tougher economic environment our school leavers face. With the collapse of the construction sector and other traditional employers, there are not many opportunities for young people, especially men, to go straight from the classroom into the world of work.

I would certainly encourage this cohort of Leaving Certs to look seriously at further education. Although some may be anxious to leave the classroom behind them for good, I think they will find third level, further education and training a world away from the school yard.

I know I certainly did. Having secured my Honours Leaving Cert, albeit only just, I got a place on the Architecture course in UCD. Life at university or college is about so much more than simply studying. It is also an opportunity to broaden the mind, meet like and un-like minded people and to engage in activities outside of the lecture hall, be they debating, drama, rock-climbing or youth politics.

The transition from second level to third level can be difficult, as well as exciting. There has been criticism that our secondary school students who present themselves in the autumn of each year at third level are not well enough equipped to face the challenges and critical thinking required.


In order to address this very topic, for the first time the National Council for Curriculum Assessment and the Higher Education Authority are holding a joint conference in September to examine this very topic. I look forward to seeing what ideas emanate from this think-in.

I have also asked the heads of the universities and IoTs, who have been vocal about the points race leading to Leaving Cert students lacking the skills required at third level, to come up with a list of ways to address this problem.

While there may well be difficulties here, any replacement or changes to the CAO system must be totally transparent and have the confidence of students and parents, which the current system clearly has.

I was lucky to get a place on the course that I wanted, Architecture. Most of the Leaving Certs who receive their results today will be rightly pleased with how they performed and next week, via the CAO, will be offered a place on a course they want.

However, there are other students who will be disappointed today. Next week, they may find that they are not offered a place on any of their preferred courses.

I would encourage these students and their families to think very hard about repeating the Leaving Cert. You are not a failure if you decide to give it a go again and it certainly is not a wasted year.

If this one year gives you the opportunity to attack the exams afresh and achieve the third-level course you have your heart set on, well then, it is certainly worth it.


It is, after all, only one more year, which has the potential to influence the rest of your life.

Congratulations to all of our 55,500 Leaving Certs who receive their exam results today. I hope that your hard work and dedication has paid off.

Good luck in the next chapter of your lives, be it in university, college, further education or the world of work. I'm sure you will be celebrating tonight -- you deserve it. Have fun and look after each other.