Irish students have much higher levels of anxiety over exams

Concern over student wellbeing flagged by educational psychological service

National Educational Psychological Service report findings, completed earlier this summer, were a key factor in the then minister for education’s decision to cancel the summer Leaving Cert exams.

National Educational Psychological Service report findings, completed earlier this summer, were a key factor in the then minister for education’s decision to cancel the summer Leaving Cert exams.

 

Irish students have much higher levels of anxiety over schoolwork and exam-related stress than other developed countries, according to a report compiled for the Department of Education.

The findings are contained in a report by the National Educational Psychological Service which says almost half of teens feel nervous and stressed when thinking about exams, while a quarter report feeling physically unwell.

In addition, the report raises concern over the level of mental health difficulties among young people in Ireland, with one in three having reported having some kind of mental health disorder.

The findings of the report, completed earlier this summer, were a key factor in the then minister for education Joe McHugh’s decision to cancel the summer Leaving Cert exams.

It warned that pressing ahead with the Leaving Cert exams this year would have posed “significant risks for heightened anxiety”.

This was due to requirements to change the length and format of the exam, along with worry about safety issues and a sense of unfairness due to a lack of equitable access to supports since the closure of schools.

Further disruption

In addition, it said the potential for further disruption to plans and changes in scheduled exam times had the potential for additional heightened student anxiety.

While some students may have managed and coped quite well, it said this needed to be balanced with the risks for other groups of vulnerable students who would find the experience “anxiety-provoking” and, for some, “overwhelming”.

The report ultimately advised that the written exams due in the summer “should not be advanced”.

“The alternative calculated grades option, with its rationale of fairness, inclusivity, reliability and validity, is the option that, in the current circumstances, better promotes for most, a sense of efficacy, resilience and wellbeing.”

Separately, education authorities are understood to have drawn up options to give students more choice in next year’s State exams to help make up for lost teaching time.

More choice

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and the State Examinations Commission are understood to have prepared reports for the Minister for Education on the issue.

Education sources say one option being considered is to give more choice of questions. This would help avoid students being penalised for not finishing the curriculum.

A spokesman for the Department of Education said it is engaging with education partners and other key stakeholders on curricular measures and it was envisaged that this guidance will be finalised by the end of July.

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