President Michael D Higgins has thanked secondary school students for the courageous and generous role that they have played during what he called a difficult and unprecedented school year.

In a video, the president offered his sympathy to students who have lost loved ones.

Mr Higgins said that for all students the pandemic has been a testing time that has called for "a profound spirit of endurance and shared humanity" from students.

He said the "necessary closing of our schools following the Christmas break, the complexities of online learning, the need for social distancing on returning to the classroom and the uncertainty around state exams" were just some of the additional challenges students had been obliged to face in recent months.

Mr Higgins said: "I am well aware, too, that you have also been required to forego so many of the annual events and rituals that are part of school life – the sports days and matches, the concerts and plays, the tours and end of term celebrations that are all part of the normal, reassuring rhythm of the school year."

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He said the co-operation and patience of students had been greatly impressive and greatly encouraging to witness.

The President said students had answered "with goodwill, grace and profound kindness" a call "to walk in solidarity with those who are most vulnerable and at risk, to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good, and to be flexible, resilient and empathetic, as you go about your day to day lives".

He said: "As we proceed, together, towards a better and safer future it is my great hope for all of you that you will continue to live by the important values you have demonstrated so impressively in recent months."

Mr Higgins said he wanted to express his gratitude to secondary students for all they have done to help "keep us safe" throughout the pandemic, and he wished them every success in all of their future endeavours.

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Meanwhile, secondary school managers have appealed to Leaving Certificate students and their families to make an extra effort to abide by public health guidelines over the coming weeks as the State exams approach.

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents religious-run secondary schools, has warned that extra caution needs to be taken to ensure that Leaving Certificate students are not prevented from sitting exams as a result of being deemed a close contact or because they themselves contract Covid-19.

As sixth year students mark the significant milestone of school graduation, the JMB said schools are acutely aware of the dangers of end-of-year parties that may lead to groups of students congregating in unsafe settings.

"It is very important that, in the next few weeks, students just hold the line," John Curtis, General Secretary of the JMB, said.

"The date when exams start - 9 June - may seem a long way away, but the next couple of weeks will be crucial."

He said schools are doing all they can to keep things "on an even keel".

"Between now and Bank Holiday Monday is the important time, and students and their friends and families need to be doing everything they can to ensure they have the opportunity to sit the exams," Mr Curtis said.