The UK’s School Standards Minister Nick Gibb has made a rather bold claim that increasing the number of exams students take will help solve increasing rates of mental health issues in young people.
In a U-turn from the government’s recent reforms to GCSEs where the modular elements were removed, Gibb said speaking to MPs this week that students should begin regular examination as soon as they start secondary school.
“The way to deal with exam pressures is to make sure that young people are taking exams earlier on in their school career – the end of Year 7, the end of Year 8 and so on – so they’re used to taking exams,” Tes reported Gibb asserted.
Children should get used to sitting exams from the start of secondary school so they are less stressed by GCSEs, the schools minister said today https://t.co/jFeCzrksn5
— The Times (@thetimes) February 7, 2018
As concerns grow over children’s mental health and the effects of school on their wellbeing, Gibb refused to accept the government’s reforms to the GCSE system could have had something to do with it.
“I don’t think it’s right to say that reforms to the curriculum are the cause of young people’s anxiety and mental health pressure,” he said.
He added that by removing modules at GCSE level, pupils currently had to sit for fewer exams, which puts less pressure on them if they have to resit.
Children should sit more exams so that they find them less stressful by the time they take their GCSEs, the schools minister says
— The Times (@thetimes) February 8, 2018
Rather than exams being the main cause of stress for students, however, Gibb argued social media and celebrity culture are the main offenders.
“There are a whole raft of mental health pressures on young people that didn’t apply when I was at school. Exam pressure has always been part of being at school. Nothing we’ve done has made it worse,” he claimed.
Many teachers disagree with Gibb’s statement
A large number of teachers and parents were appalled when they heard the claim, taking to Twitter to express their disapproval, claiming more exams will have the opposite effect.
Most schools have internal exams from Year 7. More external exams would be really testing the mental health of more teachers, parents and students. #bonkers
— TeacherWithOutstandingFeature (@TeacherWOF) February 7, 2018
@NickGibbUK more exams will lower the average age of mental health problems. There I fixed the headline.
— David Mace (@davetrombone) February 7, 2018
Simple! If we give them an exam every day then there would be nothing else for them to worry about! WOW! pic.twitter.com/Yx0mX8YwrR
— Athena Education Ltd (@athena_ltd) February 7, 2018
Not everyone disagrees with Gibb
However, not all educators have dismissed the idea. Many people can see where Gibb is coming from, claiming the exposure to exams will help students get used to the pressure.
He’s kind of right, though. More, low-stakes assessments actually reassure children that tests needn’t be rubicons, but should be learning tools.
Plus not much evidence that tests disproportionately lead to mental health issues.
Testing is The Bomb https://t.co/Y5nxxzAx5c
— Tom Bennett (@tombennett71) February 7, 2018
I can sort of see his point — if children get used to lots of exams they won't see any one as a big deal https://t.co/T01xLoTqgT
— Ann Mroz (@AnnMroz) February 7, 2018
One Twitter user pointed out that, much like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), when exposing young people to the thing which causes them stress, each exposure will be a little less painful than the last, eventually lessening their negative emotions towards it.
However, she concluded this is no “fun” way to go through education.
Ah yes. A bit like treatment for phobias? Keep showing someone a snake or something equally unpleasant and eventually they get used to it. About as much fun too…https://t.co/lMuO1xMpZp
— Kay Sidebottom 🌿🕷 (@KaySocLearn) February 7, 2018
The UK government is currently trying to address the growing numbers of mental health issues in the country’s schools. Plans, including appointing a senior member of staff in each school to work as a mental health lead, were laid out in December in the government’s Mental Health Green Paper.
The details are yet to be confirmed.
“We’re tackling a problem that hasn’t been tackled before,” Tes reported Gibb said. “This is an ambitious Green Paper, tackling a problem of modern society that we, as a government, are determined to tackle.”