The Department of Education and the teacher unions don’t normally sing off the same hymn sheet but today they united in cheer for the Class of 2015.
Some 55,963 students are due to sit the Leaving Certificate, a further 2,902 the Leaving Cert Applied and 59,919 the Junior Certificate over the next two weeks.
Abolishing the latter exam, which had been mooted by former minister for education Ruairí Quinn, would have saved up to €20 million annually.
Latest figures published by the State Examinations Commission show the overall cost of running both the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert last year was €63.16 million, of which €8.93 million was collected in fees.
Some €34.84 million of this sum was in fees paid to examiners, superintendents and other contract personnel.
While her predecessor, Mr Quinn, dismissed the Junior Cert as a “low stakes” exam, Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan said the 118,784 students starting state exams today had reached “a significant milestone in a young person’s life”.
Having given the Junior Cert a stay of execution in a deal with the teacher unions last month, Ms O’Sullivan said students had worked incredibly hard to prepare for exams at both junior and senior level “and I sincerely hope that everyone sitting the exams gets the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and interest in their subjects”.
“While the students are centre stage for the coming weeks it is also appropriate today to acknowledge the role that teachers, principals and other school staff have played in preparing students for these exams,” she said.
Also wishing students well was ASTI president Philip Irwin who advised them to, "avoid post-exam analysis and keep looking ahead to the next exam. Take plenty of breaks and make sure to build in time to organise yourself for the following day. Being organised is another way of minimising stress on exam days."
Describing both the Leaving Cert and Junior Cert as "educational milestones", Mr Irwin added: "Ireland has a robust, fair, objective and transparent exams system which provides every student with a valid statement of learning and effort midway through and at the end of their second-level education."
Teachers' Union of Ireland president Gerry Quinn said mature students who had returned to education deserved particular praise, as do the "many students of different nationalities taking exams who may have acquired English relatively recently".
With stress levels high among students and parents, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services said it was important to remember that “anxiety is not always a bad thing”.
Psychotherapist Colman Noctor said: "Anxiety can motivate us and spur us on. Therefore it is not a realistic goal to eliminate anxiety – rather the goal is to manage it."
Among his tips are to ask students what they need and to “follow their lead” rather than impose solutions; and to “remind the young person that ‘this will pass’.“There is no person in the world who still suffers from Leaving Cert anxiety 20 years on.”
Schedule & Advice
Leaving Cert English 1 and home economics are today, and Junior Cert English papers 1 and 2. Tomorrow’s Leaving Cert exams are Engineering and English 2, and Junior Cert Irish papers 1 and 2.
Last minute teachers' tips: English Paper 2: "Don't be afraid to say what you think. It's not a test of what someone else said, but what you think." (Tip from Fintan O'Mahony, Scoil Mhuire, Carrick-on-Suir.) Engineering: "Try to get a good night's sleep. Engineering requires you to use your imagination and apply the information rather than just recall; you'll need to think on your feet." (Tip from Eamon Dennehy, Heywood Community School, Ballinakill, Laois.)
Follow the Irish Times coverage right through the Junior and Leaving Cert exams in print and online at irishtimes. com/examwatch.