Just a test mark?

Pressure mounting a lot earlier in a student's school career

In 2010/11, 38% of the calls the organization “Young Minds” received from adolescents aged 15-16 were issued on school pressure and stress. Presently, many suspect that the number has increased substantially and will continue to do so in the following years. This prediction has been theorised due to the increase of our world’s population and with it, the standard of education and limitation of employment which has caused a large amount of pressure to plummet down on children of younger years. It is understandable that British students between the ages of 15-16 may suffer from anxiety or stress when they approach the date for examination (IGCSEs). However, what has captured many individuals’ attention is the fact that students are starting to feel pressure at a significantly earlier stage in their school career. This pressure is derived from the alteration in the academic system as well as the factors mentioned prior to this. For a typical British student, the academic curriculum momentarily looks like this:

1. At the age of 9, boys tend to take a series of examinations in order to attend schools in which are feeder schools into prosperous secondary schools. Girls have a tendency to carry on until 11+ exams in Year 6.

2. Children at the ages of 7, 11 and 14 also take Standard Attainment Tests (SATS)

3. By Year 5, the 11+ course has begun. This is one of the Common Entrance Examinations.

4. The following year, 10-11 year olds take part in a series of national exams and apply to a considerable amount of schools. Usually, these exams come in large quantities. Typically, an average student is required to sit a Mathematics paper, an English Literature Paper, a Verbal Reasoning paper and Non-Verbal Reasoning paper. In some cases, if the student has applied for a highly selective school, the student is required to also sit a Computing test. It is compulsory for all applicants to sit an interview if they were to not be eliminated from the examination round. This interview usually includes the following; it lasts a period of about 15-30 minutes, the student’s interests and personality is explored and the student is usually required to express their general knowledge of current affairs or interests.

5. If in the case that the student has not been accepted in any schools, the student would be required to stay at the school for a further one year and either resit or take a new set of exams for entry.

6. Year 7s are introduced (if not already) to the summer exams system in which at they are required to take a series of exams near the end of the year in GCSE format.

7. For boys around the age of 12-13, it is normally required of them to sit another set of exams in the format of 11+ in order to attend secondary boys' schools. In some cases, boys may not be needed to take these examinations if they have already participated in 11+.

8. Key Stage Three (Y7-Y9)

9. In Year 9, all students are required to make their IGCSE/GCSE choices for the following year.

10. In Year 10, the GCSE course begins.

11. In Year 11, the GCSE examinations are sit in early summer.

12. By the end of Year 11, many decide to move schools for Lower Sixth. This requires another examination process.

13. Shortly after in Year 12, many are required to choose their A level subjects.

14. In Year 13, many sit their A level examinations and apply for 4-5 universities of their choice. If the examinations go well, many are offered interviews.

By analysing the academic system that is set in Britain, it seems to correlate with recent statistics of British student’s mental health and well-being. According to The Guardian, 600-800 students between the ages of 15-24 commit suicide annually. Although this staggering number indicates the anxiety teenagers go through during the period of GCSEs / A levels, it doesn’t reflect on the examinations students in younger ages are required to sit. One fact that correlates with the increase in school and other life pressures is the fact that British students also cause self harm in greater numbers than before. This could only be due to two factors: that pressure is affecting a larger range of students and that the level of competitiveness has increased. So is this an attestation of the harsh British academic system? Or is this a common flaw across international boards?

In America, the academic system is considerably different. Unlike the UK, there is no national curriculum, meaning that US schools therefore do not have to prepare students for national examinations like GCSEs, Highers or AS / A Levels.

However, students work towards creating a high school diploma (the requirements for which are set by each state). They are therefore then assessed by universities by their class ranking, GPA as well as admission tests.

This therefore means that the students are generally assessed frequently throughout the semester with end of unit tests, exams and essays which then goes forth to create the “final grade” which is awarded at the end of the semester. This therefore means that although they lack in public examinations, the pressure to keep up the standard throughout the year remains present as it will be their main assessment when it comes to being chosen for university.

This is one of the reasons why statistics do not greatly contrast. For example, in the US, around 30% of high school students were diagnosed to have suicidal thoughts or anxiety. High school refers to students aged 13-17.

On top of this, one in five teens are said to qualify as depressed, the most common reason being school related, according to Mental Health America Reports. This number is said to have drastically increased over the past years, yet again, a demonstration that depression and anxiety is affection a larger age range of teens. But why?

Statistics to do with mental health and well-being of school students can help us learn a lot more about the situation and help us look at it with a better perspective. A survey by the National Union of Students (NUS) in December 2015 found that 78% of students had experienced mental health issues. According to Young Minds, nearly 80,000 children and young people, about 8,700 aged 5-10 year-olds, and about 62,000 aged 11-16 year-olds, are seriously depressed. Between 10 to 15 percent of teenagers have some symptoms of teen depression at some point. The experience of teenagers has changed considerably over the last 30-40 years, including a considerable increase in the rate of anxiety, depression and behaviour problems according to new research from the Nuffield Foundation. In addition to increased levels of anxiety and depression, today’s teenagers are more likely to be in education and less likely to be in paid employment than their counterparts in the 70s and 80s. The amount of 15/16 year olds reporting that they feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, from 1 in 30 to 2 in 30 for boys and 1 in 10 to 2 in 10 for girls. The company Young Minds has found that:

• There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of depression;

• Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%;

• The number of young people aged 15-16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s;

• The proportion of young people aged 15-16 with a conduct disorder more than doubled between 1974 and 1999.

Teen mental health problems can be very complicated something and with many problems comes many reasons. With all the facts on how stressed students are under, you could ask, what are the key causes and reasons for this? There are many, including:

• Handling a lot of work within a short space of time;

• School league tables.

Some schools seem to be becoming more and more like exam factories, whilst university entry has become more competitive and expensive. Furthermore, a lot of young people don’t report their struggle. According to The Guardian, around 54% of young people don’t seek support, which makes it harder to find more causes and how to deal with them.

Do you think pressure starts a lot earlier in a student’s school career than before?

“Definitely. Parents have tutors for their children at the age of 4, which is ridiculous. There is more competition and due to the increase in population, there are limitations in school, university and job places.”

“Yes. I know of parents who hire tutors for every subject; also children taking their GCSEs at the age of 6. The pressure is a lot more than in previous years”

Quotations received from teachers and parents of FHS

Our team wished to investigate the student's thoughts further. A survey was then taken out in which 10 Year Nine Students were randomly selected and questioned on their view on certain questions which related to the theme of our BBC News Report. Here were our results for the following questions:

1. On a scale of 1-10, how would you describe the amount of pressure you currently have? 80% answered between 4-7, which was categorised as "quite a lot".

2. Where does this pressure come from? 70% chose the option entitled "Anything school related".

3. Did you feel any pressure (if any) in previous years in school? 60% of students replied with "It started in recent years ( 1 year ago ).

This indicates that pressure is starting to build up in younger years, usually starting from the second year of secondary school (Year 8). The fact that students are finding school life pressurised at such an early stage in their school career really acts as sufficient evidence for our argument. It is even more worrying that students are starting to feel this pressure before any major national exams (around 3 years prior to IGCES). With advances in technology and other industries, does it seem possible that this is the source of pressure in which students are struggling to cope with?

Listed below are some helplines and websites where children and young people can get information, advice and support. There are also specialist helplines which deal with specific issues including anxiety and other themes listed above. If you feel insecure or need someone to talk to, please look at the following helplines.

Childline: 0800 1111, www.childline.org.uk, - Emotional support for children and young people on issues relating to child abuse, bullying etc

SupportLine Telephone Helpline: 
01708 765200
email info@supportline.org.uk 
or write to SupportLine PO Box 2860, Romford, Essex RM7 1JA 
Provides emotional support and information relating to other helplines, counsellors and support groups throughout the UK including helplines and face to face for young people.

Helpline: 116 123
Email jo@samaritans.org
24hr service offering emotional support.

GET CONNECTED • Freephone 0808 808 4994 (7 days a week 1pm-11pm) • www.getconnected.org.uk Free, confidential telephone and email helpline finding young people the best help whatever the problem. Provides free connections to local or national services, and can text information to callers’ mobile phone.