On Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” this morning there was an important feature on the wellbeing of young people in schools and the impact of high-stake examinations on their lives.
We thank both the Woman’s Hour team and the young women presenters from John Cleveland College in Hinkley for highlighting the alarming stress levels of students studying for A-levels and GCSE’s.
Sadly, this isn’t going to come as a great surprise to the thousands of suffering students, nor their parents and carers, nor the teachers in their schools. We all know the sorry situation, yet silently comply with this system which largely ignores the mental wellbeing of the “commodity”, i.e. the pupils.
Yet these young women from John Cleveland College in Hinkley will not be silenced because they have very valid criticisms – and a real sense of injustice. These are young women who want to learn, who want to achieve, but also want to have time to enjoy their formative years as a teenager: nothing too outlandish – just some uninterrupted mealtime with their family or the opportunity to read a book of their choice. Is that really too much to ask?
One could argue that they don’t need to spend as much time as they do studying, that it was never the intention of the schools or the system to rob these youngsters of their teenage freedom. The reality, however, is clear. With stakes being high for both schools and students, the pressure is on.
And the level is at boiling point.
We fully appreciate the agonising pressure on senior managers and teachers to produce high-level results but when decisions are made that contradict an intuitive voice of reason and caring, further reiterated by articulate students who’ve expressed significant concerns, then counteraction ought to be sought.
We need to listen to our children and young people, and what they are saying about the horrendous effects of pressurised examinations.
Like many who are degradingly called “The Blob”, these students aren’t anti-study. They’re not anarchists. As we said, they want to achieve but not at the expense of their wellbeing.
The sad truth is that whilst they evidently learned an incredible amount by doing this report for “Woman’s Hour”, these young women are probably worrying about the time lost to their designated study units in doing so. The reality is that participating in such a learning experience (with its development of life skills and understanding) will, more than likely, be as valuable as any exam they sit in the summer.
Last month we wrote a post about the importance of pupil voice. (https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/outnumbered-outranked-and-outwitted-pupil-voice/). We knew at the time of writing that the comedic parody of student voice in the programme “Outnumbered” was too close to reality for comfort. It was almost verbatim reenacted on the radio today – students with legitimate grievances expressing them assertively to a head teacher handcuffed by league tables with “the good of the school” being seen as the “be all and end all” in our exam factory existence. Where are the children in such a statement?
As Tanya Byron says, they’ve become a commodity.
Tomorrow, we’ll write in detail about what these young women said.
In the meantime, we’ll leave you with a quote from another teenager who also felt his learning had been damaged by a stringent, prescribed form of learning and felt his personal voice wasn’t being listened to.
“Learning is not all about results, about cold and assessed intelligence. It’s about thinking and engaging on another level, on your own level and learning things in your own way, for your own good. Learning either by yourself or with others can be so satisfying because of the level of interest. Focusing on results, however, can make you stressed and worried. You feel pressure, you feel stymied by convention and you can’t find a place for your own ideas, or questions.”