MU publishes research showing 75% of Leaving Cert students prefer calculated grades

Thursday, September 3, 2020 - 09:15
Maynooth University has published research looking at the wellbeing of Leaving Certificate students in the context of Covid-19 school closures, as well as students’ views and perceptions of the Leaving Certificate exam cancellations, the calculated grades system and access to third level education.   
 
Commenting on the research, Professor Sinead McGilloway, Founder Director of the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research, Maynooth University Department of Psychology said: “This research is the first to give ‘a voice’ to the many Leaving Certificate students who, according to our research, have been significantly impacted by COVID-19, not only in terms of school closures, but also with regard to their overall health and wellbeing, which has clearly suffered.  
 
“Collectively, these findings raise important questions for all Higher Education institutions in Ireland in terms of the need to provide incoming First Year students with appropriate health and wellbeing supports as they transition from school to third level education.”  
 
The survey of almost 1,000 Leaving Certificate students (n=959) undertaken in June 2020, identified amongst other things, significant concerns about their overall health and wellbeing, including, in particular, their mental health.  
 
These findings highlight the importance of providing appropriate and effective mental health support for those students entering third level education, as well as the smaller number who are likely to be entering the labour market.  
 
Key findings of the research: 
  • Almost three-quarters of participants identified calculated/predicated grades as their preferred alternative to the traditional Leaving Certificate. 
  • A similar proportion were happy, to a greater or lesser degree, with their Leaving Certificate examinations being cancelled, although one-in-four (25%) were ‘not at all happy’ (13%) or ‘unsure’ (12%) in this respect.   
  • However, students were almost equally divided in terms of their positive (51%) versus ambivalent (32%)/negative (17%) feelings about the new calculated grades system, thereby reflecting mixed views.  
  • Just over three-quarters of students (76%) believed that the changes to the Leaving Certificate would impact, to a greater or lesser extent, on securing their third level place; 27% felt that this impact would be substantial. 
  • Importantly, the Leaving Certificate students of 2020 reported low levels of health and wellbeing overall, and they are generally faring worse in this regard than a sample of Leaving Certificate students who were surveyed in 2015.  
 
Exam Stress and Marking 
The research also found that a substantial proportion of students reported a strong sense of relief and lower levels of reported stress and anxiety following the official cancellation of the examinations, even though a substantial minority (approximately 20%) would have preferred to have sat the traditional Leaving Certificate examinations.   
 
When asked about the extent to which they believed their teachers would be fair in their marking, almost 60% responded positively; the remainder were either neutral/ambivalent (26%) or believed that their teachers would be biased (17%) in predicting their marks. 
 
Impact of Calculated Grades  
Forty per cent of students reported negative views and/or concerns and uncertainty about accessing third level courses, particularly with regard to possible variations in the required number of points for their courses due to the calculated grading method, and also whether or not they would secure a place based on their performance.  
 
Related concerns were expressed (in almost 20% of responses) around the heavy reliance on the mock exams and in-class tests, which some students felt would not accurately reflect their performance and which they believed, would also not take into account any additional study or grinds work that they had completed since schools had closed.   
 
Health & Wellbeing  
Approximately 80% of students expressed general and wide-ranging concerns in relation to Covid-19, over half of which were health-related. The research also indicated generally low levels of physical and mental wellbeing amongst the sample overall.   
 
Notably, almost half of the students (46%) who completed the survey reported high levels of depression and/or anxiety. A similar proportion (44%) reported that they were not coping well in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. Substantial proportions indicated that their health and wellbeing had been ‘significantly impacted’ by school closures and having to remain at home during the lock down; social distancing was also mentioned as having impacted 25% of students to a significant degree.   
 
Penny Quinn, Ph.D scholar in the Centre for Mental Health and Community Research, Maynooth University Department of Psychology said: “The abrupt nature of school closures as a result of Covid-19, ‘robbed’ this year’s Leaving Certificate ‘class of 2020’ of much more than the experience of the traditional style examinations and the rite of passage typically associated with it. Amongst the many other negative effects of the pandemic, this essentially denied them a ‘sense of closure’ following their 6 years of schooling, and that once-in-a-lifetime chance to enjoy the celebrations surrounding the end of their formal schooling years.” 
 
Dr Jolanta Burke, Chartered Psychologist, Assistant Professor at Maynooth University Department of Education stated: “Our findings highlight the need for additional funding and extra measures that need to be put in place to help the ‘Class of 2020’ cohort to support their health and wellbeing as most of them move into third-level education. Those who choose to enter employment may also struggle, not only due to the growing unemployment rates, or significantly reduced opportunities, but also due to the impact that Covid-19 has on their mental and physical health. These findings suggest an urgent need for the Irish government to provide additional funding and resources to support our young people as they make the all-important transition to Third Level education or employment."