'Teenage mental health problems triggered by high-stakes exams are on the rise. How will Nicky Morgan respond?'

More and more critics of the government's exam and curriculum reforms are emerging. Is this the beginning of a fightback?

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There's something in the air. Is change afoot? At the very point that Michael Gove's exam reforms really start to kick in, is it possible that the fightback has already started?

It is a strange irony that just as schools and teachers begin to wrestle with the new GCSEs and new Sats, more and more people are putting together coherent arguments that they aren't good enough.

A chorus of voices – from across the political spectrum, from the CBI to the Corbynistas – are calling for a broader and more rounded approach to the curriculum and exams.

I've just come from a strangely upbeat Lib Dem conference fringe event – being released from the shackles of government seems to suit these activists – featuring the ATL's general secretary Mary Bousted, ChildLine's John Cameron and the new Lib Dem education spokesman John Pugh.

All three spoke about the problems emerging in the pupil population associated with the ever-increasing demands on children of our ever-more-stressful exam system. One delegate even described his teacher girlfriend and her pupils being in tears over primary testing.

But there were two particular charges that the Conservatives in the Department for Education, and the new educational Establishment that has gathered around them, will increasingly have to deal with in the months ahead.

First, Pugh talked about the rise of what he called "educational reductionism"; reducing schooling to a bare minimum centred around only a few core subjects (think the English Baccalaureate). He argued that we should not be attempting to mimic the Chinese system when the Chinese government is trying to import something that looks like more like ours. 

Then came the NSPCC's Cameron, who described the epidemic in teenage mental health problems associated with the high-stakes exam system England has adopted. We were seeing more self-harming and suicide attempts among the UK’s teenagers, he said, and the level of these associated with the educational culture in South East Asia was even higher. Did we really want to go there, he asked.

The education secretary Nicky Morgan won't have too much trouble batting away the accusations about "reductionism", but the issues around the psychological wellbeing of young people are altogether more serious. 

Ms Morgan has made it clear that she plans to focus on childhood mental health while she's in charge at the DfE. It will be fascinating to see how she deals with this emotive accusation about Mr Gove's exam reforms.

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