Are exams more valued than wellbeing in schools?

The first Wednesday in November was Stress Awareness Day, a campaign set up to provide an opportunity for people to think about their wellbeing and find support on managing stress. A mental health epidemic is affecting schools and colleges all over the UK, with primary and secondary school leaders, as well as college heads, reporting a rise in stress, anxiety and panic attacks in their learners.

High levels of stress have led to an increased number of young people suffering from depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health issues.

Last month a worrying report from The Health Foundation was published, following a two year enquiry into young people’s future health. ‘A healthy foundation for the future’ reports on the insecurity young people are facing, in regards to housing, work and education. Young people shared their concerns about how they lack basic foundations that are essential for a safe, secure transition to adulthood.

The report worryingly states that 80% of teachers believe exams are more valued than wellbeing in schools. The high pressures on academic performance, along with insufficient focus on work experience and practical life skills, is creating a results-driven culture that is a major source of stress and anxiety for young people. A lack of funding for specialist mental health support services in schools doesn’t help with this issue, negatively impacting the wellbeing of learners, as many of those in need don’t have access to sufficient support.

This pressure doesn’t appear to reduce for young adults, as research from the Mental Health Foundation found that six out of ten young people aged 18-24 have felt so stressed by pressure to succeed that they have felt unable to cope. Concerns about whether they will get a job, achieving a good work/life balance and fears about money or the future, are common within this age group.

It is clear that there is too much pressure on not only learners, but also teaching staff, around exams. The way that exams are presented to young people is that they are life defining and crucial to achievements in the future, however in reality academic skills are only one metric to determine someone’s ability to succeed.

Exam results are a gateway to progression opportunities, but it is important to remind learners that there are various gateways which can lead them to the career of their choice. Grades achieved are not linked to outcomes, and neither are they an end result for learners.

More emphasis should be placed on learners gaining broader skills for the workplace, as not all of these can be measured by exams. These broader skills, developed through technical qualifications and work experience, can help to mitigate the stress that young adults feel – as they will feel more prepared for entering the workplace.

CACHE is supporting The Health Foundation’s call for a review of the impact of the UK exam systems on young people’s wellbeing and mental health. We will continue to ensure that our qualifications support young people for the transition into adulthood, by providing employability skills and incorporating work experience.

To help educators provide support to young people who may be struggling with stress or mental health issues, our Level 2 Certificate in Children and Young People’s Mental Health will develop learner’s knowledge and awareness of CYP’s mental health. To find out more information about CACHE mental health qualifications, please visit our QualHub website.