WE NEED AN URGENT INQUIRY INTO THE MENTAL HEALTH IMPACT OF THE NEW GCSEs, SATs AND THE EXAM FACTORY CULTURE IN SCHOOLS

Damian Hinds - Education Secretary

This year thousands of teenagers were subjected to unacceptable levels of stress because GCSEs have been made needlessly hard. There have been reports of suicide attempts, breakdowns, panic attacks, and of some pupils just giving up altogether. The new exams seem designed to find out what young people CAN’T do, not what they CAN.  

One student, Charlotte, told us: “The government has created a hostile environment for us. It’s setting us up to fail, instead of building our confidence for the future.”

After hearing so many concerns we conducted our own survey, and the vast majority of parents and teachers who responded said they think the new exams are less fair. One of them told us: “As a parent and teacher I have huge concerns about the inappropriateness of these exams. If you are not academic and have little family support you are at a HUGE disadvantage.”

Meanwhile, half a million eleven-year-olds took “pass or fail” SATs, with more than a third of them labelled as “below the expected standard” as a result. The tests went ahead despite the education select committee of MPs reporting last year that the “high stakes system“ in primary schools can adversely affect pupil wellbeing. The school standards minister, Nick Gibb, merely repeats that it is the responsibility of primary schools to avoid making SATs stressful for pupils.

We are a group of parents who set up Rescue Our Schools to fight the mounting problems in our education system. We cannot stand by and watch so many young lives being damaged by these exams and tests. Our children are already among the most tested in the world - yet the government is planning a new test for four-year-olds when they start school.

Please sign our petition demanding an urgent and independent inquiry into the mental health impact of the new GCSEs, SATs and the increasing emphasis on formal testing at all levels of schooling.

So far the government is ignoring the evidence that things are going badly wrong. When questioned in Parliament about the new GCSEs the education secretary, Damian Hinds, said: “To be fair, I don’t think the concept of exam stress is entirely a new one and at this time of year, obviously, there is heightened stress among some young people.”

Sorry Mr Hinds, but the mental health problems being reported because of these exams ARE entirely new. Nor will they necessarily build resilience – there is growing evidence that experiencing a period of extreme stress in childhood can lead to serious mental health problems later in life.

Private schools have been able to protect their students from the new exams, but state schools have had no choice.

Rescue Our Schools believes that, above and beyond a mental health inquiry, we need a total rethink of the exam system. Is it a fair assessment of young people’s many talents and does it prepare them for the future? Is judging schools by exam results limited and damaging? What is the point of an exam at 16 when the school leaving age is 18? Other countries are doing things differently. Why can’t we?

Please sign our petition. We need to find out just how much the wellbeing of children and young people is being harmed by the exam factories so many of our schools have become.

Petition by
Rescue Our Schools
London, United Kingdom

To: Damian Hinds - Education Secretary
From: [Your Name]

Dear Mr Hinds,

We are writing to you to ask you to set up an immediate and independent inquiry into the mental health impact of this year’s GCSEs, SAT tests and the exam factory culture in schools.

We run a parent-led group, Rescue Our Schools, which campaigns for a positive experience of education. We have a substantial reach on social media and have launched an online petition asking people to support our call for an urgent inquiry.

This year thousands of teenagers were subjected to unacceptable levels of stress because GCSEs have been made needlessly hard. There have been reports of suicide attempts, breakdowns, panic attacks and some students simply giving up altogether. The new exams seem designed to find out what young people CAN’T do, not what they CAN.

One student told us: “The government has created a hostile environment for us. It’s setting us up to fail, instead of building our confidence for the future.”

After hearing so many concerns, we have conducted our own survey and the vast majority of parents and teachers who contacted us think the new exams are less fair. One said: “As a parent and teacher I have huge concerns about the inappropriateness of these exams. If you are not academic and have little family support you are at a HUGE disadvantage.”

Yet so far you have suggested in Parliament that nothing is going wrong, and have said that you “don’t think the concept of exam stress is entirely a new one”.

Sorry Mr Hinds, but the mental health problems being reported because of these exams ARE entirely new. Nor will they necessarily build resilience – there is growing evidence that experiencing a period of extreme stress in childhood can lead to serious mental health problems later in life.

Meanwhile, more than a third of eleven-year-olds have been labelled as “below the expected standard” in their SATs tests. It is not good enough for the school standards minister, Nick Gibb, to place responsibility with schools for ensuring children don’t become stressed by these tests. How would you feel if you were told at the age of 11 that you were not ready for secondary school?

The government can’t just carry on ignoring this problem. The education select committee reported last year that the “high-stakes system” can adversely affect pupil wellbeing. A key issue at both primary and secondary level is the link between results and school accountability. There are other ways to judge schools: we would urge you to look at international examples of countries with a more sophisticated approach.

Nor should you ignore the thousands of parents – and voters – who are deeply concerned about the stress their children are experiencing as schools become dominated by tests and exams.

We would urge you to act on our request for an urgent inquiry for the sake of so many young lives.

Yours sincerely,

Emma Bishton
Anne Clarke
Christine Clifford
Madeleine Holt
Issi Nash
Annabel Yoxall
Pip Cosin
Charlotte Wolf

Rescue Our Schools