Exam stress ‘is blighting lives of students’

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Headteachers in Yorkshire say they are not surprised that growing numbers of children are seeking help due to exam stress, after new figures were released by Childline today.

The helpline provided 3,135 counselling sessions for anxious pupils in the last 12 months - equivalent to almost nine a day - which is a rise of 11 per cent over the last two years.

And the data shows that volunteers at the charity’s base in Leeds delivered 137 online exam-related counselling sessions during this period.

The findings come in the week that 11-year-olds across England take their Sats tests and as teenagers prepare for upcoming GCSEs and A-levels.

Five Lanes Primary, in Leeds, ran a series of confidence-boosting sessions for Year 6 pupils ahead of this year’s Sats, which finished yesterday, in a bid to tackle anxiety, as well as a series of relaxation activities.

But headteacher Jo Fiddes said she was left heartbroken when pupils told her they had struggled to sleep the night before their exams, with some breaking down in tears in the middle of the tests.

She said: “Students and teachers get stressed and it’s down to league tables and Ofsted really.

“I have had children burst into tears this week in the middle of an exam. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a horrible system and I’m not surprised at these figures.

“I think Sats are cruel for children and they are an unnecessary pressure. What has happened to having a childhood?

“Some of the questions are quite difficult and if there are two or three in a row that pupils can’t get, you can see their shoulders slump and heads go down and they feel like they have failed.

“We have had pupils who couldn’t get to sleep worrying about their maths test at the age of 11. It’s ridiculous.”

Children aged 12 to 15 are the most likely to seek help over exam stress, but this year the biggest rise was among 16-18-year-olds, many of whom will have been studying for A-levels, according to Childline.

Steven Rippin, assistant headteacher at Tapton School, in Sheffield, which was selected to run a pilot scheme as part of the citys’ Healthy Minds programme, which is now being rolled out to 40 schools, said: “Unfortunately the figures don’t surprise me. It’s down to a number of changes being made to the examination process. If you look at GCSEs for example they are moving towards longer exams, which are all sat at the end of the course. So that puts more pressure on students as they haven’t got anything ticked off along the way.”

Mr Rippin said more emphasis was being placed on exams, rather than coursework.

“Coupled with that I think students want to do well and that puts them under pressure as well,” he added.

Tapton has taken a number of measures to combat the issue, including running mock exams to prepare students and holding a presentation on exam stress for parents in partnership with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Healthy minds champions are also based at the school.

Mr Rippin said: “You get worried and anxious students as they know how much it counts. The reality is the exam system puts a lot of pressure on students. It’s not my making or my choice, but that’s the reality that every school up and down the country faces. We have to do the best we can to prepare students for that system and that process.”

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