Linear GCSEs and A levels cut exam stress, says Hinds

But education secretary Damian Hinds also argues that 'inherently stressful' end-of-course exams build character

Will Hazell

Education secretary Damian Hinds claims that GCSE and A-level reforms have eased student exam stress

Government reforms to make GCSEs and A levels linear qualifications have reduced stress for pupils because scrapping modules means “fewer stressful periods, not more”, Damian Hinds has claimed.

The education secretary also said that “inherently stressful” exams build character and help to prepare young people for adult life.

Mr Hinds was writing in the Sunday Times as students enter their final weeks of revision before GCSEs and A levels begin.

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Linear GCSEs: 'fewer stressful periods'

He argued that prior to government’s reforms, which “stripped away endless modular exams”, pupils were “sitting qualifications before they were ready, leading to excessive numbers of resits that meant too many pupils were sitting exam after exam between the ages of 14 and 18”.

Under the current system, Mr Hinds said, students now have two years of study, “meaning they have been able to gain a thorough grasp of their subject before they are tested on it”.

“This level of preparation should mean fewer stressful periods, not more. It also means more opportunity to consolidate learning, to find the links and synergies within, and between, subjects.”

The argument that scrapping modules has made exams less stressful has previously been made by the school standards minister, Nick Gibb

'Exams are never nice'

However, claims that the reforms have alleviated stress clashes with feedback from many teachers and school leaders, who have argued that scrapping modules and the majority of coursework has made the summer exam season more high-stakes and stressful.

Earlier this month, Tes reported claims by teachers that more children are experiencing “severe exam anxiety”, which in some cases is spilling over into “dark thoughts” about self-harm and suicidal thinking.

And in a survey last summer conducted by the Association of School and College Leaders, nine in 10 headteachers said the new GCSEs had harmed pupils’ mental health.

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In today's article, the education secretary admitted that the exam season is “a stressful period, the culmination of two years of learning: the revision is draining, the exams are never nice and you know the results will stay with you, often affecting what you can go on to do next”.

And he said he was concerned when he heard stories about how “exam stress is having a disproportionate effect on young people’s wellbeing”.

“If pupils are suffering from sleepless nights, or depression, because of their exams, then something isn’t right,” he wrote.

Not an 'unreasonable burden'

However, Mr Hinds rejected the argument that exams are “unreasonable burden” to put on students.

“No amount of preparation can remove stress entirely; exams are inherently stressful,” he says.

“I’ve spoken before about the importance of building character — particularly when it comes to having the courage, resilience and determination to overcome adversity and cope with challenge.

“While some would remove this pressure from young people’s lives, stress and hard work are a part of life and if we want our education system to prepare people for adult life, this is one part of it.

“What I want to see is pupils learning to manage and deal with that stress because that will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives.”

Mr Hinds made a similar point about exam pressure preparing students for "later life" in an interview with Tes last year

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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