Tom Platt reports that almost 50% of teachers in a survey of 400 members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) believe that their students self-harm because the pressure they are under.
The majority of these (89%) attribute this stress to academic testing whereas peer pressure and popularity on social media is also a main cause of emotional strain on children.
The ATL is calling upon the government to ease the pressure off children by moving away from a test-based system (although it’s not clear which alternative they suggest) and making specialised help more readily available. The ATL is also advocating that especially dedicated counsellors are to be established at the schools.
The ATL's Helen Porter is particularly concerned about primary school children being tested, describing the current level of tests as "shocking".
The Government maintains that tests are "a key part of ensuring young people master the skills they need to reach their potential" and argues that steps have been taken "to ensure they are not on a constant treadmill of revision and testing".
My own experience with my 7 year old son and from comments I regularly hear from other parents is that it certainly appears that the amount of testing the children are subjected to is putting a lot of strain on the kids and indirectly on the parents. However, my own feeling is that the amount of tests and focus on testing in the education system has not changed dramatically over the last few decades and I certainly do not feel that our kids are subjected to more rigorous testing than we were at their age.
But it’s true that it appears that our kids are under a lot more pressure from the test than we were at the time. The question is whether the tests are the cause of the additional stress or they are only a catalyst on a pre-existing much heightened level of stress in our children. I also don’t feel that peer pressure today is more substantial than the peer pressure we experienced as kids. What perhaps has changed is the ‘channels of delivery’. If you think about it, the main change between how our kids communicate today and what they are exposed to today from how we, their parents, experienced it in the past is the means of delivery. In other words social media, electronic communication, reality TV etc.
I have a strong feeling that testing is not a real problem. Possibly it is the straw the broke the camel’s back but I don’t think that changing the way we test kids will solve their entire emotional stress problem. My instinct tells me that limited exposure to social media will substantially reduce the baseline of emotional stress and in turn reduce the aggregated effect of academic testing. But we all know that reducing exposure to social media is a tough nut to crack.