For the over 4,400 first year CAO applicants offered a place in UCD many of them probably felt the day would never come. Covid-19 has impacted the lives of so many, and few more so than the leaving cert class of 2020.
From delays to eventual cancellations followed by further delays, many of this years leaving cert students were left wondering why they were left in limbo. Of course, the evolving nature of the pandemic meant that the Department of Education had a difficult time finalising plans, but the political dimension loomed large over the process and shaped many of the outcomes for students.
On 10 April, the then minister for education Joe McHugh announced that the leaving cert would be delayed until the end of July. The decision came as a huge shock to already fatigued students and was followed by a huge amount of anger and bewilderment.
Many wanted the exam to proceed as normal and many wanted them scrapped altogether, which they already had been in the UK. The move led to a backlash against the Fine Gael government, who already emerged bruised from the general election. However, the decision had been made and couldn’t be reversed. At least that’s what was thought at the time.
By 8 May, less than a month after the delay was announced, the leaving cert was officially cancelled and was to be replaced by calculated grades. A vital reason for this was Fianna Fáil repeatedly calling for the move. This was an important moment for the government formation talks, meaning that Fianna Fáil’s intervention carried a lot of weight.
Ultimately what caused then Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to intervene was the political tide turning in favour of predicted grades. The cancelling of the leaving cert proved popular among students at the time and politicians were keenly aware of that.
As it turned out, the process of calculated grades was just as political as the proceeding events. After heavy political pressure, particularly by Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, the new minister for education Norma Foley announced that students would not have their calculated grades based on the past performance of the schools themselves.
Ultimately the entire leaving cert this year showed the important political aspects of these scenarios and also, how the voice and concerns of students can carry more weight than young people ever imagined.
Conor Paterson – Features Editor