Support for young people during exam season

This week, the Surrey Mirror asked local politicians: What additional support can be offered to young people during exam season? Here’s my response.

Recent curriculum changes mean students are now sitting more exams than ever, beginning at age six. Children, teachers and counselling services like Childline report that exam stress is mounting rapidly, and nearly 80% of school leaders warn that anxiety and panic attacks have increased as a consequence.

Despite psychologists and education experts lambasting this trend, this government seems ideologically set on more exams and rote-learning, stating this will halt the UK’s slide down global league tables. However, at the same time billions are being cut from education budgets, with Surrey losing nearly £75million since 2015-16 alone (one school in Guildford has lost nearly £700 per pupil). Meanwhile, the privatisation of education continues with academies, despite corruption scandals, school closures and worse performance than local authority schools.

This approach is not rooted in evidence. Finnish students routinely top global league tables for academic performance and happiness, but sit no exams at all until age 18. Their system features no school league tables, no profit motive, no sorting into ability groups, and minimal homework, with school only beginning at age seven. Green policy is evidence-based, so would reverse the exam-centric approach currently forced on students in favour of a Finnish-style system, helping eliminate stress from exams and other sources as much as possible.

However, exams will always be stressful, and students still need support under any system. This should be available in various forms, from better equipping and training teachers to counsel students to providing dedicated services for coping with academic pressure. Growing teacher workload, increasing class sizes and funding cuts all have to be tackled to achieve this. More broadly, mental health provision generally in the UK, and particularly for children and teens, is woefully underfunded – investing in this would help students manage stress of all sorts, including academic.

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