Concern has been raised again over the effect of school pressures on young children’s mental wellbeing, with particular reference to testing.

Exam stress and self harm is something we would normally associate with teenagers not young children. But teaching staff are reporting that children as young as six are feeling the pressure and exhibiting stress and anxiety that’s usually displayed in children much older.

An article on the BBC education news website recently says teachers who were polled were concerned that over half their pupils had self harmed and some of these were in Primary schools. And although home and social factors influenced this they felt the real pressure came from the stress of constant testing and an overbearing curriculum.

Mary Bousted, the secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, feels that governmental policies are responsible for this, in particular incessant testing, but a Department for Education spokeswoman maintains that tests are an important part of ensuring young people master the skills they need to achieve.

This isn’t entirely accurate however, as home educating families generally do not use testing as part of their approach to learning and their children still achieve. And there is a growing feeling among teachers and parents that testing is now out of proportion with other activities and aspects of the curriculum.

Teachers are campaigning to boycott the excessive testing of young children. On the National Union of Teachers website the general secretary says that they feel the government has a poor idea of how children achieve and learn and their obsession with testing is squeezing the life and inspiration out of the classroom.

And groups of parents are also showing support for a decrease in testing pressure. The Let Kids Be Kids group for example are among them and have started their own campaign to support the boycott of tests as well as the Too Much Too Soon campaign aimed at preventing baseline testing in even younger children.

With the emphasis on testing in schools parents are led to feel that testing is a necessary part of the learning process and their child’s education will suffer if they don’t take part.

However, test results are perhaps useful for the adults rather than the learners, and through other approaches to learning, the thousands of home educating families who educate their children out of school usually do so without any testing at all until they come to practise for more formal qualifications when they are older.

Pressure inhibits learning rather than enhances it and many home educating parents cite over-testing in school as a reason for choosing home schooling. They question the validity of them and feel tests don’t have to be a part of the learning process.

(See this previous post, among others, on what are we testing for).

So if you have a child suffering from anxiety over school tests you might want to consider getting together to discuss it with other parents and joining the campaign to make education freer from unnecessary testing stress, or consider your other options.

And if you’re concerned about your young person’s wellbeing through their exams there’s further information and support on the website Young Minds.




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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.