In the depths of the Guardian’s website today we found the following article (a website that still doesn’t carry an “education” link on its home page menu, in spite of our requests for it to do so: clearly football, fashion and ‘lifestyle’ are far more important)
How to help students manage their mental health during exams
At the time of writing this post, more than 24 hours after the article was published, there was only one comment posted ‘below the line’ – a comment written by ourselves:
How did it come to this? To be talking about students having to “manage their mental health” speaks volumes about our system of education and what it does to our young people. Levels of stress and anxiety that damage mental health are unacceptable and unnecessary – especially when learning is an activity that ought to be fundamentally enjoyable, stimulating and fulfilling. There are far better ways to assess educational progress and achievement than timed, high stakes exams that do no more than tell us about students’ ability to cope with timed, high stakes exams. Employers have cottoned on to this already, as evidenced by the CBI’s excellent First Steps report that calls for the abolition of 16+ exams and the introduction of a 14-19 curriculum that gives equal status to vocational studies. Leading educationalists such as Tony Little and Anthony Seldon have said similar things. Giving advice on managing mental health is well and good, but we need to change a system that makes such advice necessary.
The Guardian’s article was written by “YoungMinds activist” Alice Victor, and it ends with a section on helpful resources from Young Minds
For teachers: The Academic Resilience section of our website has plenty of free, practical resources to help everyone in your school community support students’ academic resilience.
For students: YoungMinds VS created a school stress pack, including revision tips, playlists and activists’ stories.
Two weeks ago Alice Victor was featured in The New Day newspaper as part of a two-page spread on children self-harming. In it she said,
“Every day was the same. Arguments, fall-outs and loneliness. I just couldn’t take the stress any more. I couldn’t really see much point in living any more. I prepared a suicide note and chose the highest building I could jump off and die.”
Clearly Alice is a more than able, thoughtful and caring individual who has managed to survive her crisis and has overcome her conflicts and difficulties. But how can someone who goes to school every day and is part of a school “community” feel lonely and crippled by stress? And without anyone noticing what was happening to her?
The headline over The New Day feature was, “Children are being driven to despair“.
Nicola Fifield wrote,
Extreme self harm among children is on the increase. 12,000 under-16s needed hospital treatment last year – a 76 per cent increase in the last five years, from 6,882 in 2009/10 to 12,119 in 2014/15.
The overwhelming majority were taken in because they had tried to poison themselves with drugs, alcohol, pesticides, household solvents and other toxic substances. Some children had jumped from a height and others – including some aged between five and nine – had even tried to hang themselves.
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at charity Young Minds, said mental health services for children and young people needed an urgent injection of funding. “They have been historically underfunded and completely overloaded for a very long time. Half of all mental health problems arise before the age of 14. We should prevent problems becoming entrenched and lasting a lifetime.”
Natasha Devon, the Department for Education’s “mental health champion”, said, “The government should look at ways we can make schools and homes the types of environments conducive to mental health”.
Let this be our thought for this week. How can the government make all parents less stressed, overworked, anxious, angry, fearful, depressed and impoverished?
How can schools enable all children to be less stressed, overworked, anxious, angry, fearful, depressed and spiritually impoverished? What can they do to enable all children to “manage their mental health”?
What can parents do to insist that a government that has overseen and in many ways contributed to this state of affairs now change its direction of travel (as has happened in many other countries) and create anew a system of education that’s conducive to the wellbeing of all children (and teachers) and truly fit for the 21st Century?