Students urged to mind their mental wellbeing as 120,000 start State exams

Education Minister Richard Bruton led the good wishes to the 120,000 students who are starting the State exams today Photo: Getty Images. Picture posed.

Katherine Donnelly

Leaving and Junior Cert exam candidates, and their families, teachers and friends, have been urged to mind their mental health in the weeks ahead.

Children's Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon said students may feel a huge amount of pressure but all they could do was their best.

Education Minister Richard Bruton led the good wishes to the 120,000 students who are starting the State exams today.

It is the biggest number in over a decade, as rising school enrolments reflect high birth rates since the late 1990s.

The minister said that while recognising the exams were important, students should remember that there are many opportunities open to them following on from the Leaving Certificate.

He said as well as routes to further and higher education, there were alternative pathways to careers, such as apprenticeships, which are emerging in a number of sectors.

The minister paid tribute to the dedication of principals and teachers who have prepared and guided students, and also acknowledged the supportive role of family and friends.

Meanwhile, Dr Muldoon had a special word of encouragement for students with learning difficulties who, he said, faced additional challenges during exam periods.

"With the right supports, we know that these students can reach their full potential," he said.

About 20,000 students are availing of supports, such as readers or scribes, made available through the Reasonable Accommodations at Certificate Examinations (RACE) scheme, administered by the State Examination Commission.

Mr Muldoon said the Leaving Cert and the Junior Cert were significant milestones in a young person's life "but I would encourage all students, as well as their families, teachers and friends to take some time during this busy period to consider their mental well-being.

"Anxiety, depression and stress are common among those sitting exams. Young people feel a huge amount of pressure to do well and they should be reminded that while exams are very important, there will be lots of other opportunities and possibilities.

"I hope everyone sitting the Junior and Leaving Certificates achieve the goals they have set for themselves."

Association of Secondary Teachers' Ireland (ASTI) president Máire Ní Chiarba said the most important thing for candidates was to stay calm and focused during the exam period.

"It's normal to feel some level of anxiety. Try to keep things in perspective.

"You are sitting exams; that is all they are. Exams are very much part of going through life but they do not represent your value as a human being."

The ASTI is in dispute with the Government over changes to the junior cycle.

Ms Ní Chiarba said Ireland had a robust and transparent exams system which treated students in a fair manner "and it is vital that we retain these strengths which are of so much benefit to our young people".