Parents face stress test as 'baby boomers' pack out halls
THE Leaving and Junior Cert exams kick off today, with the largest number of candidates in years.
The baby boom that started in the late 1990s is filling schools and exam halls, with 118,673 students taking their places – up 2,000 on last year.
Leaving Cert entries are up to 57,975 but the increase to 60,698 Junior Cert students signals the ongoing surge in pupil numbers.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said that while the exams were an important milestone, there were a vast array of opportunities for education and training throughout life.
Mental health expert Paul Gilligan, the chief executive officer of St Patrick's Hospital in Dublin, said it was vital to keep the Leaving Cert in perspective.
He said feelings of stress were normal during exam times and parents had a job to protect young people by supporting them, building their confidence and self esteem and by letting them know that the exams were not the "be all and end all".
National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals' director Clive Byrne said principals, deputy principals and guidance counsellors would be available to offer advice.
This year's exams see record numbers opting for higher level maths, at both Leaving and Junior levels.
They are lured by the 25 CAO bonus points awarded for achieving a minimum D3 grade on the Leaving Cert "honours" paper, while the new Project Maths syllabus is also credited with boosting uptake.
As many as 29pc of Leaving Cert candidates have signalled an intention to sit higher level, while the figure at Junior Cert is above 55pc.
But Irish continues to struggle, with fewer than 80pc of Leaving Cert candidates entered to take an exam in the subject.
Although it is compulsory to study Irish, almost one in 10 second-level students – about 33,000 – have an exemption on the grounds of a learning difficulty or because of the age at which they entered the Irish education system.