Strong focus on exams is damaging pupils’ mental health

Too much focus on exams is damaging pupils’ mental health and self-esteem in England’s schools, a report by the National Union of Teachers has said.

The survey conducted on 8,000 teachers has shown that drilling for tests has narrowed what children are learning. National tests which the Government uses to hold schools to account cause a great deal of stress. Most teacher’s surveys for the report agreed pupils became very stressed/anxious in the time leading up to Sats/public examinations.


Another said: "I have just had a child off school for three days because he was so worried about his recent test result and didn't want to take any more tests."

Lucie Russel, director of campaigns at mental health charity Young Minds, said “Both pupils and teachers are under a lot of pressure to achieve results in a pressure cooker, exam factory environment”

Many of the young people Young Minds said they felt defined by their grades, and statistics show that this stress occurs in both able and less able pupils similarly.

On one end of the spectrum, higher ability children who have supportive or pushy parents are receiving higher levels of stress because of how much is being expected of them, and on the other side of the spectrum on the lower end pupils with less supportive parents as well are suffering from the fact that they are not being given a curriculum that suits them.

One junior school teacher said: "I am in danger of seeing them more in terms of what colour they are in my pupils' list eg are they red (below expectation), green (above expectation) or purples (Pupil Premium) - rather than as individuals."

Kevin Courtney, deputy general-secretary of the NUT, said: "Teachers at the sharp end are saying this loud and clear, 'If it isn't relevant to a test then it is not seen as a priority.'

"The whole culture of a school has become geared towards meeting government targets and Ofsted expectations. As this report shows, schools are on the verge of becoming 'exam factories'."

He argued the accountability agenda was "damaging children's experience of education", which should be joyful and leave them with "a thirst for knowledge for the rest of their lives".

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Part of our commitment to social justice is the determination to ensure every child is given an education that allows them realise their potential.

"That's why we are raising standards with a rigorous new curriculum, world class exams and new accountability system that rewards those schools which help every child to achieve their best."