NSPCC reports 200% rise in requests for counselling, with its ChildLine service receiving more than 34,000 approaches in 2013-14.
The number of young people in Britain seeking counselling over exam stress has increased by 200% in recent years, according to the child protection campaigners NSPCC, with worry over education one of the leading causes of concern for children.
The NSPCC said last year that its ChildLine service received record numbers of approaches from students worried about exams, with a tripling in the number of those receiving counselling over exam stress specifically.
In 2013-14 ChildLine said it received more than 34,000 approaches from young people over school worries such as revision, workloads, problems with teachers and other issues, putting education into the top 10 of most frequent concerns among users for the first time.
Where school and education was given as a young person’s main concern, more than half of subsequent counselling sessions dealt with exam stress specifically, a 200% increase compared with 2012-13.
The NSPCC also said that there were also more than 87,500 visits to ChildLine’s website over the same issue.
The charity said that one teenage boy told an adviser last year: “I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much pressure as my parents are expecting me to do really well. I am going to revision classes and trying really hard but I feel like it is not good enough for them.
“My parents don’t allow me to do anything else apart from revision and if I try and talk to them it always ends up in an argument.”
The figures came as hundreds of thousands of pupils prepare to sit GCSE exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, followed by many thousands more sitting A-levels.
Even at primary school, pupils in their final year are taking key stage two tests, followed by key stage one assessments for those in year two.
“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,” Peter Wanless, the NSPCC’s chief executive, said.
A spokesperson for the Department for Education in England said schools have a duty to support their pupils during times of pressure, and that good schools have strong networks in place to do so.
“Tests are a key part of ensuring young people master the key skills and knowledge that will prepare them for life in modern Britain. However, we have taken real steps to ensure pupils are not on a constant treadmill of revision and testing, including scrapping January modules, decoupling AS-levels and removing resits from league tables,” the DfE said.
Overall, family relationships were the most common concern cited by young people using the service in 2013-14, while “depression and unhappiness” were the major worries for children in 2012-13.
One reason for the rise in exam stress could be nervousness on the part of teachers who face being judged by Ofsted inspectors if results dip below government targets, according to the National Union of Teachers.
“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 schools,” said Christine Blower, the NUT’s general secretary.
“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.”
Schools are also testing pupils more frequently to prepare for exams. A survey last year – by a company that sells security seals used for exam papers – found that many secondary schools made pupils sit mock exams within a month of the summer holiday’s ending.