Do Exams Cause Stress?

A few weeks ago the leader of OFQUAL, whose job it is to maintain exam standards and oversee the exam boards, argued in the press that it was not the rigour of the new exams that was causing more young people to be stressed, but just the general approach to stress nowadays and our increased awareness of this language.

Now there is some truth in part of his remarks. I cannot recall in my school days the idea of stress being quite so much in the common language of discourse of young people. Nor was Mental Health. Nor for that matter was dyslexia and racist, sexist and homophobic language were common. Times have moved on and for the better. That young people recognise and talk of stress is a good thing, as are the efforts being made to teach them how to cope with stress. We will see the benefits in years to come perhaps in the workplace. But for now we most certainly can’t attribute all the stress young people feel on changing times.

Let us start with the self evident increase in content of the new GCSEs. Whether you feel that is good or bad, there is more to do, the papers are harder, so more people will feel they have left the exam doing worse. That will cause more stress. Then there is the grading. When I went to school you could get a grade A. If you did, then you had the best grade possible. That grade is now split into grade 7,8 and 9.  Fewer people now have the top grade and so will feel less good about themselves, have the potential to be more disappointed and more stressed. Grade C used to be thought a pass. Now we have grade 4 (a pass) and grade 5 (a good pass).

I am not against all the reforms initiated by Gove and now coming to fruition. But it is simply ridiculous to argue changing exam patterns have no part to play in increased stress and disappointing that OFQUAL sought to argue that.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is the Head of Foundation of Bolton School. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists. Follow at X: @Philip_Britton | View X/Twitter archive | Listen at: Exploring Bolton School | Social Mobility, Leadership & Future School Thinking | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton | Strategic School Leadership with Philip Britton