THE demands being placed on children to ensure they pass exams have led to soaring numbers seeking specialist help to cope with stress, a leading charity has warned.
ChildLine today revealed that pupils are increasingly suffering from exam stress after the charity’s helpline said it had seen a 200 per cent rise in youngsters mentioning the issue during counselling sessions.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said figures showed that a rising number of young people were struggling with the pressure to perform well. To help deal with exam anxiety, youngsters can take a number of steps such as doing exercise, going to bed at a reasonable hour and getting a decent night’s sleep and trying to think positively, it was suggested.
Mr Wanless said: “The exam period can be a very stressful and anxious time for young people. As these figures reveal, the pressure to do well is being felt by an increasing number of young people across the country.
“We hear from lots of young people each year who are anxious, worried or panicking about their exams and revision. We want to let them know that they are not alone and that ChildLine is here to listen to them.”
The findings – which come just weeks before pupils across the country begin taking exams, including GCSEs and A-levels – show that for the first time, school and education problems were one of the top concerns among those contacting ChildLine in 2013-14.
In total, 34,454 contacts were made to the helpline mentioning schools and education problems as a main concern – including topics such as exams, not coping with school work, disliking school, truancy, problems with a teacher and worries about a new school.
Where school and education was the young person’s main concern, 58 per cent of counselling sessions were specifically about exam stress – up 200 per cent on 2012-13.
In addition, there were more than 87,500 visits to ChildLine’s website about education issues.
Being stressed about exams can have an impact on children’s ability to sleep and trigger anxiety attacks, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and suicidal feelings, the NSPCC, which provides the ChildLine service, warned. Responding to the charity’s claims Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), blamed league tables and the pressure on schools to meet test targets.
He said: “We must all listen to what the children calling ChildLine are saying about exam-related stress.
“NUT-commissioned research has revealed increases in anxiety, stress and disaffection among pupils as well as a negative impact on the quality of the teacher-pupil relationship because of the level of pressure on and in schools.
“It is possible to draw a link between increased stress and exam reform and the accountability framework under which schools are ranked and measured.
“England’s children are some of the most tested in the world, and doctors, teachers and parents want change.
“When government defines educational success in fantastically narrow terms, and punishes teachers, schools and students who do not attain it, many opportunities for learning are denied to pupils.”
Ms Blower added: “Pressure grows on children to view exam success as high stakes. We could do much better, in terms of a creative and high-quality education, than we are being allowed to do.”