Exam culture ‘undermines students’ mental health and wellbeing’, teachers warn

A large majority of teachers have raised concerns that education reforms with an increased focus on exams are undermining student’s health and wellbeing.

A new report from King’s College London, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), found that 84 per cent of teachers are concerned that reforms ‘entrench an exam culture which undermines students’ mental health and wellbeing’.

The report drew on the insights and experiences of 1,800 teachers, as well as in-depth case studies using a range of schools, to examine the impact of government policy on the experiences of pupils and teachers in Key Stage 4.

Teachers also raised concerns about the EBacc, with 74 per cent saying it has narrowed the Key Stage 4 curriculum in their schools and 77 per cent saying the new GCSE curriculum will be less suitable for low attaining students.

Additionally, 92 per cent of teachers reported that their workload has increased as a result of the new Progress 8 performance measure, with 72 per cent warning that meeting the demands is taking time away from teaching.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, said: “The government should take this report seriously. It uncovers significant problems with the EBacc and shows the profession does not support the attempt to steer all schools towards a narrow range of subjects. The demands of EBacc are driving creative and vocational subjects out of the curriculum and are harming students’ motivation, engagement and appetite for learning. The government still has not published the results of its consultation on implementing the EBacc. It is high time it did.

“The report finds that classrooms have become even more focused on exam and test preparation, especially in the subjects that are most heavily weighed in the Progress 8 basket. Secondary teachers are adamant that the Key Stage 2 SATs are not a reliable bench-mark from which to measure pupils’ progress through to age 16. The government must engage with this valid concern, which runs to the heart of the reliability of their primary- and secondary-school accountability system.

“Secondary education, like primary, has taken a wrong turn. A massive effort will be needed to get it back on course. It is essential that we develop a system in which the achievements of all students can be recognised and in which students’ individual strengths and interests can be used as catalysts for supporting good progress and positive life chances. The government could and should learn important and constructive lessons from the thousands of secondary teachers speaking up in this report.”

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