I am starting a new campaign on child benefit payments in Irish Country Living this week. If you have teenagers in the house getting bigger by the day, eating you out of house and home but still not yet sitting their Leaving Certificate exams this year – I know I can rely on your support.

The problem is down to Transition Year (TY), a growing issue in hundreds of secondary schools the length and breadth of the country, and the ever-expanding timeline and prolonging of child-rearing in the average Irish home (alongside the mega bills that go with it). Ours is just one of thousands of families being affected.

It was so simple and straightforward in the old days: traditionally our adolescents entered the post-primary phase of their education when they were 12 or 13 years old and headed along a timeline which parents had been able to deal with for generations. By the age of 15, one could expect that the student in the house would be sitting their Junior Certificate (or Inter Certificate if you were of a certain age). Two years later, the much-dreaded Leaving Certificate exam was on the cards before the student with the big appetite and heavy spending habits finally departed your care and headed away to college, employment or on for an apprenticeship.

Sales pitch

But that’s changed now and it’s all down to the dreaded TY, that extra year inserted into the school curriculum by so many schools. Like hundreds of other parents, my wife and I could not resist the sales pitch and the calming ‘Dr Phil-style’ comforting tone of the endorsement on the local school website: “Transition Year provides students with a safe and supportive environment to explore their interests, strengths and weaknesses. It fosters personal growth and helps students mature emotionally, mentally, and socially. During this time, students are encouraged to engage in self-discovery and develop a sense of responsibility and independence.” How could one possibly resist?

Allowance payments

Most of us know the obvious problem leading on here. Children’s allowance payments, as they used to be known, are critical to average Irish families in coping with the costs of education and rearing children in the midst of spiralling bills for everything from shoes to electricity to food and transport. As any parent will tell you, it would not be possible to meet the demands of childcare, school books and basic everyday cost of living expenses without the Child Benefit payment, yet heretofore the cut-off period for it is 16 years of age. That deadline was even more critical in our house. Because of his May birthdate, we gave our eldest a few extra months at playschool. He was therefore well past five years of age starting primary school and over 13 arriving into his secondary school. Now – thanks to TY and the new six-year post-primary cycle – he will be over 19 before he even sits his Leaving Certificate exam.

The Government says it has been listening to people like us, the Cabinet having approved from 1 May 2024 the extension of Child Benefit to all 18 year-olds in full-time education or those with a disability. There is evidence too that the department really does know the effect of the crippling costs. Letters have been going out asking parents to get the school to confirm that their child really still is school going after the age of 16 and the Child Benefit can be extended for another short period but much more needs to be done.

The truth is the €140 monthly payment per child at this late stage in their secondary school education is barely adequate for many families already facing mounting bills such as pre-school childcare and then facing into the prospect of the cost of paying for their child’s mock exams. Minister for Social Protection, Heather Humphreys has already said the new measure will benefit 60,000 families, but many parents have already missed out because issues with changes to the Department’s own IT systems prevented it from happening in September 2023 as originally intended.

My new campaign, as the father of a 19-year-old about to sit the Leaving Cert, stands by the principle that the new measures proposed still need to go further. I happen to believe the age limit should be extended up to 20 years to fully allow parents cope with the cost of not just a late-late Leaving Cert but the very real possibility of a repeat of exams being on the cards, as well as the equally torturous costs of then getting their children into college accommodation or starting an apprenticeship in the months that follow.

Are you listening, Minister? Will you join us on the march to Leinster House?

Road fatalities

The spiralling increase in the number of fatalities in accidents on our roads since Christmas is scary and surely needs a radical response. One measure I would like to see is the introduction of properly co-ordinated learner driving classes for all students in the new transition year module in our secondary schools. I cannot understand why students are not offered the opportunity to get a provisional licence there after nine months of professional tuition. It would definitely lead to better and safer driving in the long term.

Follow Ciaran on X Twitter at @ciaranmullooly

Read more

Mullooly Matters

Mullooly Matters