As exam season looms into sight, the stress is ramping up. This is nothing new, of course, but the way students are being treated at my school is a cause for concern. We’re showing a complete disregard for their mental health and wellbeing.
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The school’s leaders seem to have no reservations about working our young people into the ground. The school day has been extended for some year groups, while a huge number of regular sessions outside school hours have been made compulsory. Students who don’t turn up can expect detention and a phone call to their parents.
Teachers, under pressure from leadership, are using fear to motivate students in lessons. Students are frequently told exactly how many days or hours of study time are left until exams, and some less-experienced teachers are directly transferring the pressure they feel on to students through frustration and anger. As a result, pupils are appearing increasingly anxious.
The stress is showing in some worrying ways. Fights, erratic behaviour and even self-harm are becoming more common. I recently found one pupil sitting catatonic in the playground after it all got too much. It’s clear that students aren’t really learning under these conditions.
My school seems to have forgotten that these are people we’re working with, not robots who can be programmed with all of the information needed to pass the exams. PE lessons and extra-curricular clubs have been cancelled, and students are timetabled instead to do extra work for academic subjects. It seems ludicrous to take away such important outlets for combatting stress. Even PSHE and tutor time sessions have been cut.
My concern for my pupils’ safety and wellbeing is exacerbated by the fact that I don’t feel confident addressing some of the issues they’re facing. Although we have safeguarding training, we’ve not been given the tools to adequately deal with mental health problems. There is a counsellor on site who will take on cases of huge concern, but what about the majority?
Pupils aren’t given advice and strategies to help them cope, and staff don’t have the capacity or time to focus on the bigger picture. The school’s leaders don’t seem able to see that good results are the product of happy, emotionally resilient students.
With the former headmaster of Harrow suggesting that teenagers should be revising for seven hours a day during the Easter holidays, it’s important that we think about the pressure we’re putting on our young people. There are schools doing lots of great work on mental health. I just wish my school would recognise the importance.