'Schools are so much more than exam factories'

Everyone remembers one teacher who inspired them – this shows that school isn't just about results, writes Natasha Devon

The NHS is to work with schools to improve mental health support for pupils

During the week spanning A-level and GCSE results day, Tes and I launched a social media campaign using the hashtag #MoreThanAGrade. Thanks to the involvement of a celebrity name or two, we briefly trended (hurrah!).

The idea was to recognise and celebrate all the aspects of education that cannot be seen in an exam result – the times when teachers have motivated, inspired, entertained and gone above and beyond for their students.

As I scrolled through the thousands of contributions to the hashtag, two things struck me. The first was how long our memories of school stay with us – childhood and adolescence are a crucial, formative time in our brain development. People in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond could recall with absolute clarity minute examples of wisdom and kindness that their teachers had showed them (the teachers had probably, by now, forgotten themselves). The second was how closely correlated people’s "favourite subject" at school was with their "favourite teacher". I don't think it's a coincidence that students tend to show the most enthusiasm for subjects taught by someone they have a connection with and, in the case of the stories being shared, this often went on to inform huge decisions about further education and employment.

Inspirational teachers

We know how important teachers are to our society, but sometimes we need to be reminded. In that spirit, here are some of my favourite tweets from the campaign:

 

Of course, knowing teachers make such a valuable contribution to society doesn’t absolve us of any responsibility to examine the negative aspects of the job. You can’t lacquer over record teacher stress levels with sentimentality, as fleetingly comforting as it is.

The impact of new GCSEs on mental health

Last week’s news also (rightly) focused on the new GCSEs and their impact on pupils and teachers alike. If like me, you are concerned about increasing emphasis on exams (as opposed to balancing with coursework) and the more general narrowing of the curriculum, you might be interested to hear about a campaign called "Rescue Our Schools". It has called for an urgent inquiry into the mental health impact of the new GCSEs and Sats. You can sign its petition to Damian Hinds here. 

#MoreThanAGrade is more than a hashtag – it’s a philosophy that acknowledges that school isn’t merely a recruitment process, but part of the fundamental building blocks of most people’s psyche. It is this view of schools as more than exam factories that we must preserve and protect.

Natasha Devon MBE is the former government mental health champion. She is a writer and campaigner and visits an average of three schools per week all over the UK. She tweets @_natashadevon 

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