New harder GCSE and A-Level exams are giving pupils 'extreme anxiety' and making them feel like 'failures', union warns

  • Pupils face 'excessive pressure' to succeed in the new A-level and GCSE exams

  • Left-wing National Education Union (NEU) said pupils are made to feel 'inferior'

  • A survey of its members found nine in ten felt this way about the new GCSE

Teachers claim pupils have been suffering 'extreme anxiety' due to 'excessive pressure' to succeed in the new harder A-level and GCSE exams.

The Left-wing National Education Union (NEU) said pupils are being made to feel 'inferior' by the new tougher qualifications and their 'mental health' is suffering.

A survey of its members, who teach in schools across the UK, found nine in ten felt this way about the new GCSEs, while for A-levels it was almost seven in ten.

The union's warning comes before hundreds of thousands of teenagers pick up their exam results over the next two weeks.

This summer, a raft of new GCSE and A-level exams were sat, following reforms to make the qualifications tougher.

 

The National Education Union (NEU) said pupils are being made to feel 'inferior' by the new tougher exams and their 'mental health' is suffering. (File photo)

At A-level, there is more focus on final exams, while at GCSE there is more challenging content and a new grading system. The new qualifications are being phased in over a number of years, with a number of subjects added this summer.

The changes, pioneered by former education secretary Michael Gove, were aimed at raising standards following years of the UK lagging behind in international league tables.

But the NEU has been campaigning against the reforms, claiming they are turning schools into 'exam factories'. 

In the past, the union has been accused of using classroom issues to destabilise the Tory government, as it made no secret of its support for Jeremy Corbyn despite being officially politically neutral.

Nansi Ellis, the union's assistant general secretary for policy, said: 'It's worrying so many students are suffering from stress and anxiety, because of changes to the way they are assessed.'

The changes brought in by former education secretary Michael Gove, were aimed at raising standards but the NEU has been campaigning against the reforms, claiming they are turning schools into 'exam factories'. 

The poll's respondents said GCSEs had become nothing more than a 'memory test'. One teacher said: '[There is a] huge increase in pressure to succeed ... feeling of inferiority due to more difficult content, and constant feeling of failure.' Another said: 'Two of my students attempted suicide.'

The changes to GCSEs and A-levels have also increased teachers' workload according to 87 per cent teaching GCSEs and 81 per cent teaching A-levels. One teacher said: 'Because some of the skills were new to us and the students, we needed more time than the timetabled lessons could give.'

Mrs Ellis added: 'Not allowing schools to sufficiently prepare has put staff and students under tremendous pressure.' The union's warning is just the latest episode in the long-running war between so-called 'progressive' teaching and traditional methods. 

Left-wing elements of the education establishment believe children should be taught skills through activities and exploration, while traditionalists think excellence comes from rigorous testing.

The Department for Education said: 'The new qualifications will help young people compete with the best in the world and deliver the skills businesses tell us they need.

'While testing has always been an important part of education, it should never be at the expense of a young person's wellbeing.

'We trust schools to make sure pupils preparing for exams get the help and support needed, when they need it, working with parents to do this.'

 

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