High-stakes exams and tests are contributing to a mental health crisis among pupils and increasing the burden on teachers, a shadow minister has warned.
Labour’s shadow early years minister, Tracy Brabin, warned about the impact of exam and testing pressure on both pupils and school staff as she took school leaders’ questions today.
And she revealed that she was aware of a case where there were concerns that exam pressure had contributed to a pupil taking their own life.
Investigation: More pupils suffer exam anxiety
Background: Teachers trained as mental health first-aiders
Comment: Exam stress even felt by parents
Ms Brabin warned that high-pressure exams were impacting on young people's mental health and risked "burning out heads".
Mental health in schools
Speaking to heads at the NAHT annual conference in Telford, she said: “I had a very emotional meeting with a mum who lives locally to me who told me about her son, who was under GCSE pressure and took his own life.
“It was unequivocal that it was the pressure of the exam that he felt he was going to fail that contributed to him, unfortunately, taking his own life.”
Ms Brabin, the MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire, has supported a campaign for additional counselling support to be provided to schools following the death of a school pupil in the county who was said to be suffering from anxiety while studying for exams.
Ms Brabin also talked about the impact on teachers, saying: “We believe that teaching to the test and that high-stakes, high-stress tests are putting additional burdens on schools.
"We think working with schools and decoupling the outcome of the school and the outcome of the child is really important.
"We have seen around the world, internationally, that standards can be maintained or improved without that severe testing, and certainly when we see a rise of mental health crises among our young people in our schools, it's deeply troubling.
“When we see that Easter holidays are taken up with exam preparation, we know that this is a real burden for you.”
She also questioned whether government had made the link between high-stakes testing and mental health.
Almost two years ago the government pledged £200,000 to pay for the training of 3,000 mental health first-aiders in every secondary school, including how to deal with issues such as depression, anxiety, suicide and self-harm.