Exclusive: ‘High stress’ in exams is good, says exam board chief

But Cambridge Assessment's Saul Nassé also admits exam stress is a 'live concern right around the world'

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It’s “good to have high stress moments in education” like exams, the chief executive of one of the country’s biggest assessment organisations has said.

Saul Nassé, the head of Cambridge Assessment, which runs the OCR exam board and Cambridge International, said that stressful moments at school prepare young people for “what their life is going to be like”.

Concerns about exam-related stress have increased in recent years, following the introduction of tougher GCSEs and the move to assess most GCSEs and A-levels purely through end-of-course exams.

However, in an interview with Tes, Mr Nassé suggested that some exam stress could be healthy.

“Personally I think that it’s good to have high stress moments in education, because life has high stress moments in it,” he said. “In some ways that just prepares people for what their life is going to be like.

“As long as you’ve got the support from the school environment, the support from parents, I don’t think exams are intrinsically a stressful and a bad thing.”

However, Mr Nassé admitted that exam stress was a “live concern right around the world”.

Cambridge Assessment delivers exams globally, and Mr Nassé said that some countries had a more stressful environment than the UK.

“We’ve been talking to our partners in Singapore about the sense the parents have there around exams being very stressful,” he said.

“I think it’s particularly true in Singapore because there are exams at points in the school system where selection happens – in some senses in Britain it’s never quite as stark as that.”

Earlier this week, the head of the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) said there was “no correlation” between the prevalence of testing and pupil anxiety.

And last year schools minister Nick Gibb said the way to ensure exam pressure does not take a toll on pupils’ mental health is to give them more exams.

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