On Children’s Mental Health Week, Education Minister Nick Gibb suggested that: ‘The way to deal with exam pressures is to make sure that young people take exams earlier on in their school career. At the end of year seven, at the end of year eight and so on, so they are used to taking exams.’
However, his ideas appear to be going in the opposite direction to recent research. A report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers in 2015 found that: ‘Teachers in England are seeing unprecedented levels of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems among pupils of all age groups and abilities, particularly around test or exam time.’
Merryn Hutchins, the professor from London Metropolitan University who conducted the research, explained: ‘The problems are caused by increased pressure from tests/exams, children’s greater awareness at younger ages of their own ‘failure’, and the increased rigour and academic demands of the curriculum.’
The concern was echoed by Lucie Russell from the children’s mental health charity, YoungMinds. She explained that children said that ‘they feel completely defined by their grades and that is very detrimental to their wellbeing and self-esteem.’
Research conducted by Leslie Morrison Gutman and John Vorhaus for the Department of Education in 2012 also produced similar findings. A statement in the report explained: ‘Children’s measures of school wellbeing have been found to be associated with academic progression in secondary school.’
An analysis of the research by Evolve found ‘higher levels of wellbeing dimensions correspond to higher levels of academic achievement and engagement with school.’
Thus, Nick Gibb’s ideas could prove fruitful for higher achieving pupils, initiating a further confidence-boost and engagement with their academic studies. However, the plans are likely to have a detrimental impact on lower achievers, with ‘emotional wellbeing, better behaviour, and freedom from bullying also found to be linked to the ability to make progress in school,’ as outlined by the Evolve case study.
Tom Madders from Young Minds responded to the Education Minister by stating: ‘Schools that prioritise wellbeing also tend to do better academically, so it makes sense to focus on promoting good mental health rather than putting children under yet more pressure.’
Natasha Devon, a former government mental health champion, told The Independent newspaper, ‘the transition between primary and secondary school is already really hard’…. An area Evolve are looking to support across the country with XLR8 courses.