Cork principal reflects on unprecedented and testing year for those in education

Cork principal reflects on unprecedented and testing year for those in education

Principal of Coláiste Éamann Rís Aaron Wolfe reflects on what was an unprecedented year for education. Pic: Larry Cummins.

Schools across the country first closed in mid-March following then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s announcement that all schools, pre-schools, and further and higher education settings would remain closed until March 29.

The following week, then-Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh announced the cancellation of oral and practical performance tests of the state examinations originally scheduled to run from March 23 to April 3.

It was announced on March 24 that schools would remain closed until April 19, and later again, it was decided that schools would remain closed.

Reflecting on the past year, principal of Coláiste Éamann Rís Aaron Wolfe, said that the most difficult time for him as principal, for his staff and for his students, was the waiting for a decision on the state examinations.

Some of the Leaving Certificate students at Coláiste Éamann Rís, Cork, pictured with principal Aaron Wolfe. Picture Denis Minihane.
Some of the Leaving Certificate students at Coláiste Éamann Rís, Cork, pictured with principal Aaron Wolfe. Picture Denis Minihane.

In what was an unprecedented year for education, he said that when schools closed the realisation was quickly made that they would not reopen for some time and “principals across the country called very early on that the Leaving Cert wouldn't be going ahead but the Government wouldn’t make a decision”.

“For school leaders that was very very tough. We were dealing with the anxiety of parents, students and staff and the uncertainty of it all when it kept changing,” he said.

In September, over 60,000 Leaving Cert students received their results. Later that month, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced that two coding errors had been identified in the calculated grades system and Minister for Education Norma Foley apologised to the 7,2000 students affected.

Coláiste Éamann Rís Principal Aaron Wolfe and Deputy Principal, Kevin Barry, with student who received their 2020 Leaving Certificate results. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Coláiste Éamann Rís Principal Aaron Wolfe and Deputy Principal, Kevin Barry, with student who received their 2020 Leaving Certificate results. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Mr Wolfe raised concerns for his current sixth years and said that a decision on this year’s Leaving Cert needs to be made “immediately” as sixth year students “don't have the same amount of exams done as last year's sixth years had”.

If they are doing a calculated grades model we need to be told so we can offer them exams in February, March, April and May so we can work out an average.

Students continue to learn from home following the reversal of a decision to bring sixth year students into schools three days a week following scrutiny.

Mr Wolfe said that one of the best things to come out of the lockdown was the advancement of teaching and learning and said that this time around, schools are much more equipped for teaching and learning from home.

 School principal Aaron Wolfe sitting in one of his class rooms with social distance measures in place to welcome back his students to Coláiste Éamann Rís. Picture Dan Linehan
School principal Aaron Wolfe sitting in one of his class rooms with social distance measures in place to welcome back his students to Coláiste Éamann Rís. Picture Dan Linehan

“It's shown us that there are different ways of doing things. That's often what the education sector falls victim to is people saying we’ve always done it this way, but just because we’ve always done it this way, doesn't mean it's the only way,” he said.

Mr Wolfe commended how students have adapted and spared a thought for first year students “who didn’t know what their classmates or teachers looked like until we moved to online learning because of face masks”.

He said that he misses his staff and students and hoped for the return to the classroom when Covid-19 is not a threat to the safety and wellbeing of the school community.

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