*Trigger warning for those with mental health struggles and thoughts of suicide*
When I woke up this morning, I saw an article about students taking GCSEs that distressed me: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/may/17/stress-and-serious-anxiety-how-the-new-gcse-is-affecting-mental-health. Essentially, it explains how GCSEs have become so difficult, and so much importance has been placed on them, that students as young as 15 or 16 are having serious mental health issues, some feeling so desperate that they have tried to take their own life. It seems ridiculous and extremely saddening that young people have been pushed to these extremes before their lives have even really begun, because they are led to believe that if they do not pass these difficult exams, they will have no future.
When did education in this country become about putting students through some kind of mental abuse? Of course it may differ from school to school, but this article reveals that high levels of stress and anxiety are being felt all over the country. Teachers are left in heart-breaking positions, where they admit they are lying to their students about good outcomes of the exams, because this new set of examinations has left everyone doubtful that students will get the grades they want, or at least will be happy with. If students can no longer trust in their intellectual ability and the hard work they have done to get them through the exams, then what is the point? It seems like a trap, where high marks are impossible. If this is the case, then students may become even more disheartened by the results of exams that seem to be no real indication of their skills and abilities. So again, what is the point? Are these new exams just setting students up to make them feel like failures?
Perhaps the most upsetting part of the article, is when a student from Dorset reveals that his school has posters 'warning that if you get grades 1-4 you’re likely to end up cleaning or working in a shop, whereas if you get 8s and 9s you’ll be off to university to enjoy “a great lifestyle”.' This just shows how education has degraded in its attempt to become more beneficial. GCSEs do not even determine whether you get into university or not - Higher Education institutions accept A level grades or equivalent qualifications. It is emotional and mental abuse to put so much pressure on such young students, and quite frankly, this school is a disgrace to the education system and deserves to be shamed for such lack of care for the welfare of its students, practically encouraging distress in its students, and probably only because the school is trying to get to the top of the league table.
Although this example exceeds the others, the article makes it clear that a lot of schools are lacking the focus on welfare that is needed with these increased amounts of stress and unhappy students. From my own sixth form experience, where I took the International Baccalaureate and daily saw my school friends fall apart because of the stress of work, I know that schools are extremely deficient in this area, often not having a single member of staff who is trained in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. It was pleasing to see that one school ran yoga sessions and provided support for their students, but even this is not enough to counteract the extreme stress that these exams have caused. Something needs to change, whether it is the format of the exams, or the content of the syllabus. What makes it even more ridiculous, is that in the grand scheme of things, these are minor qualifications. I know for a fact that these students will go through harder trials and qualifications, and look back on their GCSE experience and marvel at how unnecessary all of that emotional torture was.
The Department of Education states that 'In order for pupils to be successful, rigorous examinations are vital. They are not, however, intended to cause significant anxiety. Good leaders know that positive mental wellbeing helps pupils fulfil their potential and make that part of their overall school ethos.' Yet, in what way do these incessant exams, with such a huge amount of content that has meant study leave has had to be cancelled, promote mental wellbeing?
Why have we forgotten that education should be about enjoyment? Students should feel satisfied and interested in the knowledge and skills that they are gaining, not that it is never enough. This is even more important now that students have to remain in education until they are 18, as we want them to remain in education also because they want to, not feel as though they are being forced or trapped. Education should be about happiness of the students, and helping them to grow into healthy, positive and confident people, who know that they can achieve anything they put their mind to, not breaking them down to the point that they have no self belief and feel like they are worthless.
To all those taking these GCSEs, they do not represent who you are. Results do not define you. You are so much better than these ridiculous examinations that are imposed by people who have no idea because they do not actually have to experience them. This is just one moment in your life that you will move past and will be easily forgotten, so please look after yourselves, because you are way more important than a few exam papers.