New A levels bad for mental health, say teachers

Exclusive: Research uncovers major teacher concerns about qualifications that have become 'a punishment course'

Catherine Lough

A-level results: Teachers have raised concerns that the new A levels put students' mental health at risk

Most teachers feel that reformed A levels have led to a deterioration in pupils’ mental health, according to a new survey by the NEU teaching union.

The research also suggests that large sections of the profession have other major reservations about the new more exam-based qualifications.

Nearly four in 10 (37 per cent) of those surveyed said reformed A levels reflected students’ abilities less accurately than the legacy qualifications, and a third (34 per cent) said they had made pupil engagement worse.

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A-level teachers cited concerns over the pressure placed on students by end-of-course, linear exams.

The reformed A levels, introduced from 2017, reduced the amount of coursework in all subjects to no more than 20 per cent of the overall grade, with most subjects assessed entirely through exams.

A levels 'put students' mental health at risk'

They also “decoupled” AS levels from A levels, so that performance at the end of Year 12 did not count towards the final grade.

“The idea of four units at the end of two years is too stressful and has caused a rethink on the value of education,” one respondent wrote.

Another teacher said the fact that there was “so much to learn” made it “seem impossible to revise it well enough to feel prepared for one exam period". "Some have been demoralised and stressed about this,” they said.

Andrew Morris, assistant general secretary of the NEU, said: “When 55 per cent of teachers believe students are being put through an education system that is damaging to their mental health, it is quite clear that something is wrong.

"Changes to A levels, including removing AS levels and most subjects now being assessed entirely through end-of-course exams, is resulting in many students becoming disengaged, overwhelmed and stressed.

"It is essential that government addresses these issues and that we have a system in place which means studying for A levels becomes something more than a punishment course.”

The research, which asked 300 A-level teachers about their views of the reformed examinations, found that 55 per cent of respondents felt that the new exams had made student mental health worse.

Matt Blow, policy manager at youth mental health charity YoungMinds, said: “It’s concerning that most teachers feel that the new exams are having a negative effect on students’ mental health.

"Over the last few years, there has been an increase in ‘high-stakes’ exams and in the pressure on schools and colleges to achieve academically – and this has put extra pressure on young people as they grow up."

“The factors behind mental health problems are usually complex, but we work with young people who say that they felt like failures because they weren’t doing well at school.

"Most young people, parents and teachers agree that the current education system focuses more on exam results than wellbeing, and this needs to change.”

Teachers in the survey also commented on how end-of-course, linear exams have a detrimental impact on students’ motivation, as well as limiting their choices regarding which subjects to study.

“Students do not have the same motivation to study for their Year 12 year as there is no formal assessment in this year,” one teacher wrote. "This means that students too often put off their learning until Year 13 and, as a result, become much more time pressured and stressed."

Another said the reduction in AS levels meant reduced flexibility for students. Students “no longer take an AS to see whether they like a subject” or to “maintain a diverse spread of subjects”, one respondent said.

They added that schools no longer allowed students to switch out of a subject at the end of Year 12 and gain a qualification.



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author bio

Catherine Lough

Catherine Lough is a reporter at Tes.

Find me on Twitter @CathImogenLough

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