UK students 'cracking under stress'

Britain's emphasis on academic achievements has led to meltdowns, anorexia and self- harm among schoolchildren who cannot cope with test and exam stress.
Britain's emphasis on academic achievements has led to meltdowns, anorexia and self- harm among schoolchildren who cannot cope with test and exam stress.PHOTO: REUTERS

Survey reveals incidents of meltdowns, anorexia and self-harm among school kids

LONDON • Britain's emphasis on academic achievements has led to meltdowns, anorexia and self- harm among schoolchildren who cannot cope with test and exam stress, educators have observed.

Teachers said children are being asked to learn things which they are not ready for and schools are suffering enormous pressure as strict government measures hold them accountable for the results of their students, said a report entitled Exam Factories? The Impact Of Accountability Measures On Children And Young People.

The report, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers and released on Friday, is based on a survey of close to 8,000 teachers in Britain, according to an article on TES, a website for teachers.

Exam stress affects both primary and secondary school students who are experiencing "unprecedented levels" of school-related anxiety, stress and mental health problems, noted the author, Professor Merryn Hutchings of London Metropolitan University. "Anorexia is increasing among primary-age children," said Prof Hutchings. Pressure from statutory assessment tests, which are part of the national curriculum, has also led children to inflict harm on themselves, she added.

One teacher was quoted as saying in her report: "It is heartbreaking to have a four-year-old approach me in tears because they are still in the 'bad group' for reading because they have already been streamed in phonics at age four!"

HOLISTIC APPROACH

What we need to do is create an education system whose success is not just assessed by exam results, but by how it is helping to develop children's and young people's character, resilience and well-being.

MS LUCIE RUSSELL, director of campaigns at mental health charity YoungMinds, who said the "pressure-cooker" environment is taking a toll on students and teachers in Britain

Ms Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at mental health charity YoungMinds, said the "pressure-cooker" environment is taking a toll on students and teachers.

"Many of the young people YoungMinds works with say that they feel completely defined by their grades and that this is very detrimental to their well-being and self-esteem," she said.

"What we need to do is create an education system whose success is not just assessed by exam results, but by how it is helping to develop children's and young people's character, resilience and well-being."

Defending the current system, the Department for Education said: "Part of our commitment to social justice is the determination to ensure every child is given an education that allows them realise their potential. That's why we are raising standards with a rigorous new curriculum, world-class exams and new accountability system that rewards those schools which help every child to achieve their best."

In 2012, Britain was ranked 23rd for reading, 26th for mathematics and 21st for science among 65 countries in a three-yearly study by the Programme for International Student Assessment that compares 15-year-olds' abilities in core academic subjects. Singapore was placed third for reading and science and second for mathematics.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 05, 2015, with the headline 'UK students 'cracking under stress''. Print Edition | Subscribe