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Testing is damaging our mental health, pupils tell Ofsted

Young people tell Ofsted that testing is causing 'panic attacks, feelings of anxiety, stress and sadly, a loss of interest in learning'

pupil mental health

The pressure of exams is having an impact on the long-term mental health of pupils as well as preventing their true personal development.

That’s the claim of a group of A-level students, backed by campaigners at Psychologists for Social Change, who have voiced their concerns to Ofsted as part of its current consultation on proposed changes to its inspection framework.

In a letter to chief inspector Amanda Spielman, the students say: “The huge amount of content required to be recalled in a limited time frame causes high levels of anxiety and stress…The long-term consequences of this system can include panic attacks, feelings of anxiety, stress and sadly, a loss of interest in learning.”


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The eight students, some of whom say they have suffered mental health issues themselves as a result the education system, are calling for a response from Ms Spielman or a meeting with her at which they could discuss their views further.

They say: “This narrow conception of success is a deeply entrenched issue causing the education system to neglect our unique traits, values and ambitions…placing no consideration on our individual needs or sense of purpose. It is extremely concerning that we are being limited so much by the education system.”

The 12-week Ofsted consultation, which ends today, seeks views on plans to shift emphasis of inspections away from exam data in favour of a broader curriculum.

Psychologists for Social Change supported the research among 80 young people in focus groups across four secondary schools. It was conducted by States of Mind, a social enterprise that provides mental health education for young people in schools and communities.

Their recommendations include:

  • Having work experience placements of at least a whole term “to allow students to discover their strengths and weaknesses by applying themselves to practical, real-world scenarios”

  • That schools and sixth-form colleges reinforce the importance of active listening to enhance critical thinking and interpersonal skills required in the workplace

  • That schools and colleges should offer "reflective learning opportunities", such as recording students reading selected texts or group presentations, as a way of assessing strengths and weaknesses

Education psychologist Dr Chris Bagley, of Psychologists for Social Change, said: “They are a really intelligent group of kids who have done their GCSEs very recently and have reflected on that experience.

"Some of them have experienced mental health issues as a result of the schools system they are embedded in, or they know someone who has."

The students' letter adds that young people "internalise a sense of shame and low self-worth if they do not achieve the grades that are expected. There is nothing in place to prevent or reduce this shame.

“There is an idea sold within education – that ‘if at first you don’t succeed, your worth is symbolised as a letter, forever’.”

“More than 70 per cent of workers are not content with their career choice, forcing us to question where the system is going wrong and what we need to do to fix it.”

States of Mind director Bea Herbert said: "It has been made very clear from this research how students feel that their experiences in education, their views towards Ofsted and the detrimental effects of high-stakes testing are completely overlooked."

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