LOCAL Year 12 students say they are stressed by the constant disruptions COVID-19 is causing during their final school year.
This year’s General Achievement Test has been rescheduled to a date yet to be announced, because of COVID-19 community transmission occurring in Melbourne.
On Tuesday — two days before it was set to take place — the Department of Health’s public health team recommended the three hour exam be rescheduled to reduce the risk of a further outbreak with large cohorts of students taking the test together.
The test was initially scheduled for June 9, but was then delayed to August 12 after the state’s fifth lockdown.
The exam tests students’ general knowledge and English, mathematics and humanities skills, and the results are used to calculate a derived ATAR score for those affected by illness, accident or personal trauma, help rule out any discrepancies in schools’ internal marking and provide a comparable benchmark for the final exams.
The state government says a new date will be determined “in the coming days” to give schools and students certainty that the rescheduled test will be safe to go ahead.
Gippsland Grammar school captain Connor Hare, from Sale, said he was trying to focus on the positives.
“I think I speak for most Year 12s at Gippsland Grammar in saying that our focus takes a hit every time we go into short lockdowns like the one just passed, and the GAT again being postponed probably creates more stress,” he said.
“However, we’re all in the same boat and the GAT’s really something we’d prefer to happen soon so we can focus on the bigger picture, being November exams.
“Something lockdown’s taught us though is not to take school for granted, and to appreciate that we’re able to spend at least some of the little time we have left with mates on campus, unlike Year 12s in Sydney or last year’s Year 12s.”
Fellow school captain Kate Finlay added the constant rescheduling of the GAT definitely caused stress for her and others she had spoken to.
“… we understand the reasoning for rescheduling but it’s difficult to stay motivated and concentrate on our studies with everything changing so much,”
“In terms of lockdowns, I and many others are finding it difficult jumping back and forth between school and home, many of us would honestly prefer to be all at home.
“The uncertainty, constant rescheduling and cancelling makes SACs (school assessed coursework), study, motivation and planning extremely hard, and you can visibly see that students are less positive and more stressed about our final year.
“I think learning at school does have its advantages, but the constant changes are seriously impacting the mental health of students.”
Principal Leisa Harper said the school’s students were well-prepared, irrespective of whether they had to learn at home or at school, and well supported by a range of staff and assistance.
“Our current Year 12 students know that last year’s cohort achieved highly and reached their goals even with the significant interruptions, which is reassuring for them,” Ms Harper said.
“Everyone is happy to be back working on campus but we all know the situation can change very quickly.
“Students know how well our systems work and they gain most comfort from that.”
Sale College’s head of Macalister Campus George Duursema said while students were way happier to be back compared with the last lockdown, Year 12 students were still experiencing stress, especially given their year was already interrupted last year.
“We did see it coming — we thought it [the GAT] would need to be rescheduled, because it’s one of those tests that needs to be sat at the same time across the state,” Mr Duursema said.
“The GAT has to be done, and the school places an importance on it.
“I don’t think it is necessarily giving them a lot of stress regarding when it’s going to be done, but they are certainly worrying way more about exams going ahead as scheduled at the end of the year.”
Mr Duursema said the school had upped its already successful wellbeing program, with tutor programs continuing from last year, and assigning every adult in the school to multiple students to mentor, but with the pandemic in full swing, mental health issues were bound to be exacerbated.
“Ideally, we wish we weren’t in this scenario, but I think we are doing as well as we can,” he said.
“We’re really hoping lockdown 6.0 is going to be the last lockdown ever, but we’ll just have to see.
“There’s a level of tension and angst that comes with the uncertainty, but hopefully we can get through this final stretch.”
Catholic College Sale declined to comment.
Sale mental health clinic HeadtoHelp Wellington, at Inglis Medical Centre, has experienced an increase in adolescents over the past few weeks, with psychologist Muhammad Yousuf saying the narrative was similar to those doing VCE.
“Students are experiencing a lot of stress from going back and forth, back and forth, from online to in person,” he said.
“Without COVID-19, year 12 already is stressful enough, so adding COVID in on top of that… you have to learn not to be so hard on yourself, and how to manage the changes.”
Mr Yousuf said it only took him an extra year to get to where he wanted to be, when he didn’t do as well during Year 12 as he had hoped.
“VCE is not as life-defining as most point it out to be. If you don’t do as well, there’s always options, there’s always pathways,” he said.
The psychologist advised students to take regular breaks, separate things down to one task at a time and focus on the basics.
“Sleep, exercise and diet … it does make a difference, and if you can only focus of one of the three, I would recommend sleep,” Mr Yousuf said.
“A lot of students weigh up between sleep and study. Find a routine — nine hours ideally. The more alert you are, the better you can perform.
“Plan some time away from school to do your hobbies, activities, whatever works for you.”
Mr Yousef couldn’t emphasis enough the importance of communication.
“When in doubt, always reach out. Reach out to whoever is close to you,” he said.
“It’s very easy not to notice how stressed you’re getting focussing on the task at hand, so it’s important to talk to people. Talk about anything — it doesn’t have to be about school work.
“If friends and family aren’t doing it for you, seek out a professional service.”
There are a range of services ready to help any student who may be struggling coming into the final stretch.
HeadtoHelp is a free mental health service, based out of Inglis Medical Centre, Sale, which Mr Yousuf described as “a good place to start”.
The entry-level ‘walk-in’ service offers psychologists, mental health nurses, social workers, occupational therapist and care coordinators, and no referral is needed.
To book an appointment, phone 1800 595 212. Headspace or eheadspace is a free professional mental health, general and sexual health support service for young people aged 12 to 25, and there is a satellite branch at 453 Raymond St, Sale.
Kids Helpline provides free, private and confidential 24-7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged five to 25, available by phoning 1800 55 1800.
ReachOut is an online mental health organisation for young people and their parents that
offers practical support, tools and tips, available at au.reachout.com.
Services that can help parents decide if their child needs more support include Parentline (phone 1300 30 1300), Lifeline (for 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention strategies, phone 131 114) and Beyond Blue (phone 1300 224 636).
If anyone is in immediate danger, phone 000.