It's time to ask ourselves if we’re really happy with our current approach to schooling, which so sharply affects young people’s mental wellbeing and learningby Lucy Maddox / August 21, 2020 / Leave a comment
GCSE results have come out and in all of the UK and Ireland teacher-predicted grades will be used. The weeks when exam results come out are regularly stressful, but this year has been off the scale. It was always going to be hard to allocate grades for exams which hadn’t been sat, but in England in particular the handling of A level results has been a farce, causing young people huge and totally unnecessary stress. There are negative repercussions for their mental health.
As a clinical psychologist, I regularly work with young people and their families who present in significant distress. There are many interacting factors which contribute to child and adolescent mental health problems, but exams and exam results play an important role in both precipitating and exacerbating mental ill health.
I remember working in my first newly qualified job on an adolescent mental health ward back in 2008, before all mental health units for teenagers were continuously full as they are now. We would have cyclical admission rates, with results time and back-to-school time both being significant peaks in need. The back-to-school rates were partly explained by teachers noticing problems that had been brewing over the summer, but the exam results peak was clear cut. Getting grades which were below what was expected was a significant stress for young people and could cause huge upset, sometimes resulting in severe self-harming behaviours as they felt all their chances had been blown. Now, when I’m working with young people who are not in hospital, I will work with them to draw out a map of the things that are causing them to worry. Exams are often somewhere on there—even when they are two or three years away.
I’ll bet that you can still remember what grades you got, and probably remember something about results day or the build up to it. But for young people today, the meaning of exams is even greater than before. It’s hard to encourage distressed young people to realise that they are much more than the sum of their exam grades when the system is strongly suggesting otherwise.
The league tables which rank schools on exam results—without taking into account the demographic of the population served…