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Paul Murphy on the Leaving Cert: ‘There’s an enormous class bias in it. I’m a product of that’

Paul Murphy is a People Before Profit TD for Dublin southwest.

He attended St Killian’s German School in Clonskeagh and, later, the Institute of Education. He sat the Leaving Cert in 2001.

What is your most vivid Leaving Cert memory?

Finishing it and walking away – I remember feeling an enormous burden lifted off my shoulders.

Who was your most influential teacher and why?

I had a couple of really good teachers, both women, who taught history and English. They helped create an environment where people could think for themselves, were encouraged to discuss things, where learning wasn’t simply a rote exercise – which I think is the danger of what the Leaving Cert promotes. One of them was Ms Golden. I can’t remember the name of the other teacher, unfortunately.

What was your most difficult subject?

I probably struggled with Irish. I got an A2 in Irish, but felt challenged by it.

And your favourite?

I really liked maths. It worked for me. It fit my brain reasonably easily.

Can you recall what grades or points you received?

I got 580 points. I got two A2s and the rest were A1s. It was the time when the maximum you could get was 600.

How important were the results for you, ultimately?

Ultimately, they’re less important than you think at the time. I went on to study law at UCD, which was around 500 points, and obviously I’m not a lawyer now. It’s presented that this is going to determine what happens for the rest of your life. It’s not, really.

What did you do after secondary school?

After law in UCD I started a PhD but didn’t complete it because I ended up working with Joe Higgins in the European Parliament, and then taking over from him as an MEP.

I think things I learned in school are definitely helpful. Thinking through things logically, like thinking about how to argue different points of view – I think some of those things that I learned in law are helpful, having some legal background. But not at all essential for what I do.

What would you change about the Leaving Cert?

I’d scrap the Leaving Cert and have open access to university. Allow people to do what courses they want to do. It creates horrendous pressure. It has got worse since I was there and there’s an enormous class bias in it. I’m a product of that. I got that benefit … My mother was able to afford to send me to the Institute of Education. Other parents are able to afford to get their kids grinds. It’s very, very unfair. Access to money has a big impact on how you do in your Leaving Cert.

What advice would you give to your Leaving Cert self?

Don’t stress too much about it. It will pass. Those two years of your life, particularly sixth year, seem like an enormously long period of time. But when we look back at them when you’re older, they’re quite a short amount of time.

– In conversation with Jen Hogan

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