Nick Gibb: Extra exams would cut risk to pupils’ mental health

The school standards minister said that pupils should be taking exams from Year 7 onwards

Adi Bloom

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Nick Gibb has said that the way to ensure that exam pressure does not take a toll on pupils’ mental health is to give them more exams.

But teachers have taken to Twitter to contradict the school standards minister, claiming that academic pressure is affecting the wellbeing of their pupils.

Speaking to MPs this morning, Mr Gibb said: “The way to deal with exam pressures is to make sure that young people are taking exams earlier on in their school career – the end of Year 7, the end of Year 8 and so on – so they’re used to taking exams.”

He denied that the government’s reforms to the GCSE system was having an adverse effect on pupils’ mental health. "I don't think it's right to say that reforms to the curriculum are the cause of young people's anxiety and mental-health pressure," he said.

For example, he said, removing the modular element of GCSEs has meant that pupils sit fewer exams during the course, and feel less pressure to resit exams if they did not perform as well as expected.

Instead, he argued that online pressures and celebrity culture have contributed to pupils' mental ill-health. "There are a whole raft of mental-health pressures on young people that didn't apply when I was at school," Mr Gibb said. "Exam pressure has always been part of being at school. Nothing we've done has made it worse."

'Doesn't make it OK'

Teachers, however, have made their disagreement clear on Twitter: 

'Ambitious'

Mr Gibb was addressing a joint session of the parliamentary select committees for education and health, meeting to discuss proposals put forward by the government to tackle mental health in schools.

These plans – laid out in December, in its mental-health Green Paper – would include appointing a member of senior staff in every school to work as a mental-health lead.

Pressed by MPs to outline what responsibilities would be taken away from senior leaders to allow them the time to undertake comprehensive training in mental-health support, Mr Gibb was noncommittal.

"This will be for specialists to determine," he said. "We're tackling a problem that hasn't been tackled before. This is an ambitions Green Paper, tackling a problem of modern society that we, as a government, are determined to tackle."

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