School closures, exam uncertainty hurt student wellbeing, finds Trinity survey

Posted on: 28 August 2020

A new survey of second-level students in schools in areas of social disadvantage shows school closures as a result of COVID-19 negatively impacted on their mental health. 

It found that students reported significantly lower levels of wellbeing in 2020 during lockdown compared to the previous year. Some of the reasons cited were: a lack of, or reduced, feedback from teachers; a lack of connection with their peers and a perceived increase in workload.  

The data was collected as part of a broader longitudinal study by Trinity Access at Trinity College Dublin which meant that clear comparisons could be made with 2019.  

The survey also found thatthose students who had low parental involvementand/or negative relationships with teachers were more likely to have poorer mental wellbeing during lockdown.

School closures, exam uncertainty hurt student wellbeing, finds Trinity survey

The COVID-19 Student Survey, carried out by the School of Education, Trinity College Dublin in collaboration with Trinity Access, is the third in a series of reports on the impact of COVID-19 school closures on education in Ireland. The other two reports focused on the perspectives of post-primary teachers and the parents of primary school children and were published earlier this summer.  

For this survey, more than 1,000 students participated from 15 schools in the greater Dublin area that are part of Trinity Access; a programme specifically aimed at increasing access to post-secondary education for students in areas of low progression to higher education. 

The findings also highlighted mixed views among students about the cancellation of state exams and the introduction of predictive grading. Half of those surveyed agreed or strongly agreed with the cancellation of the Leaving Certificate exams. 

However, students were less convinced about the use of calculated grading with just 33pc agreeing or strongly agreeing with its introduction. Leaving Cert results are due to be published on September 7. 

Insight was also provided from students entering their final year with many concerned about the interruption to their studies in their 5th year, ?with some suggesting this is an opportunity to reform the Leaving Certificate toward continuous assessment in senior cycle. 

The qualitative findings from students provide important insights into the failings of the current Leaving Certificate examination system in adequately representing their work and achievement in schools. 

The findings also highlight students’ concerns and the stress involved in the move to predictive grading, with many highlighting the significance of student-teacher relationships in this process.  

The study also looked at their experiences of home learning and, overall, students reported medium to high engagement with learning and positive relationships with teachers. 

Some 4 out of 5 students reported that their workload increased during school closures and many found this difficult to manage and that it increased their stress levels. Teacher feedback increased for just over one-third but had decreased for more than a quarter of students.  

The survey was carried out during May and June 2020, and over 1,000 second-level students responded.

A report entitled: ‘Post-Primary Student Perspectives on Teaching and Learning During Covid-19 School Closures’ has been written based on the survey findings.  The full report is downloadable here  

This report was compiled by a team from Trinity Access and the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin led by Dr. Aibhín Bray. It included Eilís Ní Chorcora, Jen Maguire Donohoe, Dr. Joanne Banks and Dr. Ann Devitt, who is the Director of Research at the School of Education and the Academic Director at The Learnovate Centre. 

 Dr. Aibhín Bray says:  

The findings of this study have important implications both for contingency planning for future school closures and for the re-opening of schools and for post-primary education more generally.

Schools should develop a contingency plan in case of further lockdowns, making sure that a co-ordinated, whole-school approach is taken to the provision of online learning, with a unified view of assessment and of workloads for students that is distributed across subjects in such a way that the student is not overloaded.


The report lists a range of recommendations that need to be addressed by both those at system level as well as by school leaders and educators. 

About the authors:  

Dr. Aibhín Bray is lecturer and researcher in education and leader of the mathematics strands in the School of Education at TCD. 

Dr. Joanne Banks is a lecturer and researcher in inclusive education at the School of Education at TCD. 

Dr. Eilís Ní Chorcora is the Coordinator of Research and Impact at Trinity Access. 

Dr. Jen Maguire Donohoe works in a dual position as a Research Assistant and a Pathways to the Professions Project Officer in Trinity Access. 

Dr. Ann Devitt is a lecturer and researcher in language and literacy education at the School of Education in Trinity College Dublin.  She is currently Director of Research at the School and Academic Director for The Learnovate Centre, a global research centre in learning technologies based at TCD.

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