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As the mock results sink in, a tide of blame rises in some classrooms

The craic may have been good for best part of two years, but there is now a realisation that a high price is to be paid for taking such a route

For many parents, this is the second most expensive time of year in education. Vast sums are spent between the mocks and June exams as panic or anxiety sets in, despite more affordable solutions remaining neglected.

Many highly effective yet under-promoted learning strategies lurk in plain sight. Of greater concern is an ongoing prevalence of deeply damaging tactics. Mock results reveal a clear picture of the work that lies ahead. For Junior Cycle students, it is about preparing for the final weeks of the school year, but for Leaving Certificate students, these will be their final school weeks ever.

Life becomes extraordinarily busy for all State exam candidates, and tensions run very high as a result. This is when they need parent and teacher guidance the most. Teachers are also absorbing the news that the mock results have brought, and it is entirely natural for panic to set in on their side of the desk too. As each tries to get the best out of themselves and each other, conflicts that would not normally break out do so. A tide of blame seems to rise out of nowhere in some classrooms. Where the craic may have been good for the best part of two years, there is now the realisation that a very high price is to be paid for such an approach.

It is inevitable that the final exams bring a certain amount of stress. That certain amount is the sweet spot, the stress that positively drives us on and towards productivity and achievement. It sits quite comfortably with some people. For those who don’t find it especially comfortable, the highly effective strategies I mentioned earlier are the saving grace.


Sleep is a universal friend, but its value to all who spend their days at school can never be underestimated. Everyone from the junior infant at the earliest stages of schooling to the staff member approaching retirement needs their sleep. Many people of all ages and in all roles across school life lose sleep over school, and it is something we do not speak nearly openly enough about.

A smartphone’s capacity to rob us of our focus while apparently also fostering whole new levels of focus is both commendable and disconcerting

The ultimate goal is not just to get some sleep but to access high-quality, restorative sleep regularly. Achieving that takes significant commitment, but it is rich in rewards, as the benefits filter positively into other crucial aspects of our lives.

Health is an obvious example, of course, and we need to take more time than we do to be grateful for the absence of problems in our lives. “Health is a crown worn by those who are well, but seen by those who are sick”. How often do we truly pause to reflect on how lucky we are to be able to go to school and complain about the stress of exams? So many envy us that. Truly valuing our health is a strategy in itself, and the benefits of gratitude have been well documented.

School, study and exams all require us to focus and maintain concentration at school. Anything which ensures that these things are possible counts as active preparation for successful learning and assessment. It is equally true that those behaviours and habits which hinder our capacity to perform well need to be kept to a minimum. When we neglect to curb what is unhelpful, we unwittingly nurture it instead, and this can spiral very rapidly. Current trends in phone use offer us ample evidence of this.

A smartphone’s capacity to rob us of our focus while apparently also fostering whole new levels of focus is both commendable and disconcerting. Our phones have deprived us of concentration skills for all things bar themselves. They have managed to safeguard our focus, but only for themselves. And we have let them do this by giving in to them.

It has been some years since we discovered that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs led by example when it came to limiting their children’s phone use. Gates did not allow his children to own phones until they turned fourteen, but according to the annual Back to School Survey by the Irish League of Credit Unions, 10.7 years is the average age at which Irish children get their first phones. Jobs, chief executive of Apple until his death in 2011, admitted that he did not allow his own children to use Apple’s new products on their release. A parenting priority in their home was to limit their children’s access to technology.

Controlled breathing, which is a skill to be practised, can become a powerful ally during life’s greatest stressors

Our capacity to breathe deeply is the free gift we carry around with us every day. Despite this, many of us do not know how to use it effectively. It is a powerful resource we can deploy to calm ourselves. Given that it is hard to find a meditation or relaxation technique which does not involve breathwork in some form, this seems to be the lowest common denominator in calming techniques. If there is any doubt about the value of taking a simple breath, just think of what happens when things aren’t as they should be.

We can unintentionally hold our breath under pressure, or have a panic attack due to excessively rapid breathing. Controlled breathing, which is a skill to be practised, can become a powerful ally during life’s greatest stressors. For many Irish teenagers, these include formal examinations which offer them an opportunity to embrace breathwork. Doing so earlier in life means accessing the benefits for longer overall.

Looking less to the phone and more to being grateful for our health and preserving it make for a great start. Taking it up a notch could involve determined efforts to develop conscious breathing techniques and access quality sleep. The pinnacle is when the quality of the study improves. Help from home doesn’t need to break the bank.