Exams are ruining teenagers’ lives

Exam pupils 1

Emma Jacobs is studying for her A-levels. She is an aspiring journalist and occasional slam poet. She blogs here and tweets @ESophieJ.  Yesterday she wrote a fantastic article on how exams are ruining teenagers’ lives:

Spring is the start of a period of intense pressure for 16-year-olds taking GCSEs. Schools push their more academic pupils in order to score well in league tables. At my comprehensive school, many peers took more than 10 GCSE subjects in one summer. Some had been encouraged to take exams a year early and were then enrolled on AS-levels alongside the GCSEs.

The school day, with travel, can easily stretch from 7.30am until 5pm, and then extra work starts as soon as you get home. A 14-hour day is not unusual in the run-up to exams. There is little or no time for exercise or fresh air. Levels of stress, clinical depression and anxiety are high, and up to one fifth of my contemporaries are said to be self-harming. Eating disorders remain a distressing problem and increasingly sufferers include young men. Some schools recognise the high levels of anxiety by having strategies like “time out” for those who cannot get through an exam without a panic attack, but I see little evidence of strategies being put in place to mitigate the stress before it becomes clinically debilitating.

Not only do exams put a strain on young people’s mental health, their physical health also suffers. For A-level students all-nighters are standard and many then survive a full day of school on caffeine alone. Within my friendship group, on any given night one person is awake texting about how they’re up during the early hours finishing an essay or cramming for a test. Arguably the texting and distractions we have on our phones are part of the problem, but they are part of our world and it’s not as easy as adults think to just turn them off (I notice that adults who advise turning off extraneous screens are often rather wedded to their own devices).

After over ten years of full-time youth work I have never seen young people (and their teachers) under more pressure than they currently are.  Not only does it have a profound impact on physical and mental health it also places a challenge at the door of the church as it seeks to disciple young people.

Is more coursework the solution to this problem or does this not merely keep the high levels of pressure going for a longer period of time causing even more of a problem?

Any ideas?