Pupils' exam stress is rising dramatically, new figures show

11th May 2016 at 00:01
stress, anxiety, exams, results, a-levels, gcses
The number of pupils worrying about exam results has increased by 9 per cent since last year. Now a children's helpline offers tips to help pupils cope with exam stress

Exam stress and fears about exams are rising dramatically, new statistics reveal.

ChildLine, the children's helpline, delivered 3,077 counselling sessions about exam stress to school pupils in 2015-16, an increase of 9 per cent on the previous year. Almost a quarter of this counselling took place in the lead-up to exam season.

Concerns about exam results were mentioned during 1,127 counselling sessions with the helpline, an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year. A quarter of these took place in August, while teenagers waited for their GCSE and A-level grades.

Anxiety attacks and depression

The children’s charity NSPCC, which runs ChildLine, pointed out that exam stress can affect pupils’ ability to sleep, as well as leading to anxiety attacks, depression, self-harm or suicidal feelings.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “The pressure to do well is being felt by an increasing number of young people across the country.”

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT teaching union, laid the blame for the mounting stress over exams at the government's door. 

“Teachers see very clearly the effect of stress on students and are reporting exam stress among school children from primary school upwards. Many relate it to the joyless exam-factory approach this government has towards education, and the high-stakes nature of testing," he said.

“We have the most tested children in Europe and also some of the unhappiest in the world.”

The Department for Education said that it was promoting greater use of counselling in schools and improving teaching about mental health. 

"Nothing is more important than the welfare of children. The best schools create a happy, safe and supportive environment, so that all children can fulfil their potential," A DfE spokesperson added.

Coping with exam stress

ChildLine is today launching a new video, featuring tips to help pupils cope with exam stress. Its counsellors also offer the following tips for pupils:

  • Make sure you take regular breaks from revising and do some exercise.
  • Go to bed at a reasonable time and try and get some sleep.
  • Getting a good night’s sleep will help you much more than trying to revise all night – you will just end up very tired the next day.
  • Try to think positively – a positive attitude will help you during your revision.
  • Take some water into the test with you, if you can. Keeping hydrated by drinking water will help you concentrate.

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