GCSE or Bust


Emigration is all very well when it’s just you and your knapsack heading off to sunny Melbourne or glitzy Dubai for a year to ‘make a bit of money and see how it goes’. But when you’re married with children emigration morphs into a whole new animal. The considerations go on and on, sponsorship for your significant other, taking the children out of their familiar environment, maybe leaving the grandparents that played an active part in their lives and of course, education.   For younger children apart from missing the cupla focal from home and learning where the Comeragh mountains are, they don’t miss out too much, they will complete primary school in Qatar generally the same way they finish in Ireland albeit their friends in Qatar may be Mohammad and Ahmed as opposed to Cian and Swartec at home.

It’s when those kids grow to teenagers and commit fully to the British Education system that the implications of educating our Irish kids abroad gets serious.   Firstly in the British system there is no Junior or Leaving Cert. Instead, there are GCSE’s and A Levels.   The GCSE’s are the first formal exam that children take in the British system and it is legal to leave school at this point. The standard of the GSCE is deemed generally to be higher that the Junior Cert but not as difficult as the Leaving Cert, it falls somewhere between the two and kids sit the exam in year eleven. Secondary school starts at year seven. Seven to nine is general studies and years ten and eleven focus on the GCSE course.

In order to proceed to A levels after the GCSE, the student must get a minimum of five C’s and a minimum of ‘B’ in the four subjects they wish to study further in the A Levels.   If the students achieves these grades, they proceed to years twelve and thirteen but if not, they find themselves out of formal education at 16, living in Qatar with no opportunity for further education.   A pass in GCSE gains access to some college courses in Ireland but not all. A levels are required on most academic courses.

Exams are stressful at the best of times but this added complication is pressure indeed on Irish students living abroad. So, this being said, our Irish teenagers are here in Qatar, sitting somewhat the equivalent of the Junior Certificate paper, and having to deal with the pressure of achieving good results or else they will have to leave Doha, move back to the Ireland alone to attend a college course with a mediocre leaving cert or attend boarding school in order to complete the leaving cert with the intention of starting college on the same footing at their peers.

So while their counterparts are practising on Junior Cert past papers and wondering what they’ll wear to the night out after their exams, teenage Irish emigrants living throughout the Middle East are checking their passports to get ready to leave what has become home.

Going back to Ireland, despite being Irish, they will not be regarded as home students and they will be charged a reduced but yet significant portion of international fees, IF, at some stage they have completed five years in formal education in Ireland. So while the pressure is on for our teenagers of today, the real problem lies with the teenagers of tomorrow because Irish people here with young children who have not spent any time in formal education in Ireland will not be eligible for the fee reduction and will not be considered as Irish students when they face international fees which are currently between Eu.8, 000 and 20,000 per year.

Those living abroad with young children need not worry just yet, but bear in mind that if you want your child to complete the five years in education system that grants free college, then as soon as Ben and Molly turn 12, its time to commit to the British system or get off the pot, because after that, there’s no going back!


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