New GCSEs and A levels ‘damage mental health’

Teachers warn that the reformed exams have increased their workload and put pupils' mental health at risk

Martin George

Do you need to do a GCSE Maths and English resit if you do not get a grade 4 or above on results day and what happens next

Reforms to GCSEs and A levels have damaged students’ mental health and increased teacher workload, a survey of teachers suggests.

Pupils will this month receive the results of the new-style GCSEs in 20 subjects, and the new-style A levels in 11 subjects.

The GCSE reforms include more difficult content, increased emphasis on exams at the end of the two-year course, and fewer opportunities for resits.

Almost nine out of 10 teachers (89 per cent) who took part in a snap-shot poll by the NEU teaching union said the assessment method for the new-style GCSEs had made student mental health “worse than before”. Two-thirds (66 per cent) said the same about the reformed A levels.

Teachers’ comments included:

  • “Two of my students attempted suicide.”
  • “A lot more anxiety and stress with more GCSE exams and everything being a memory test.”
  • “Pressure now on one final exam compared to previously when coursework was counted as part of the final grade.”
  • “More cases of students exhibiting extreme anxiety. More struggling to cope with the demands of multiple practical courses. Many struggling with course content and the volume and depth of study required.”
  • “There’s not enough provision for students at the lower end of achievement levels. Not enough courses that they can access, and certainly not enough guidance given to teachers.”

Increase in teacher workload

In the survey, which 656 secondary teachers completed, 63 per cent said the introduction of the new GCSEs had led to a “significant increase” in their workload, while 24 per cent reported a "slight increase".

For A levels, the figures were 48 per cent and 33 per cent respectively.

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary for policy at the NEU, said “hasty implementation” of the new exams had caused “huge difficulties for students and staff and put them under excessive pressure”.

She added: “The government should have allowed teachers the time to learn these new specifications inside-out, time for resources and textbooks to be developed, and provided the funding for necessary training, before expecting them to teach the new courses.

“Not allowing schools to sufficiently prepare has put staff and students under tremendous pressure and stress.

“The government needs to learn from this and make sure that teachers and students are given the support they need.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said that the new qualifications "will help young people compete with the best in the world and deliver the skills businesses tell us they need".

She added: “We know exam season can be a time of heightened emotions for pupils who want to do their best.

"While testing has always been an important part of education, it should never be at the expense of a young person’s wellbeing.

"We trust schools to make sure that pupils preparing for exams get the help and support that they need, when they need it, working with parents to do this.”

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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