Girl in England talks exam-based depression in teens

A 16-year-old girl in England, who had just received her results from the national test all students there take, spoke at the Labour Party conference about how many of her classmates are suffering from anxiety and depression that she believes can be linked to the exams, the BBC reports.


Lauren Stocks, 16, addresses a Labour Party conference about the new GCSE tests.

The tests are known as the GCSE, or the General Certificate of Secondary Education, and the government revamped them for last year’s test, making them harder.

In the US, states like Illinois and Maryland switched from state tests, which had been watered down due to the 100-percent proficiency requirements of the now-superseded No Child Left Behind law, to the PARCC tests. And just like the UK, test scores here went down. The PARCC tests were more difficult than the tests kids had been taking, as PARCC aligned the tests to the more rigorous Common Core state standards in math and English.

Much the same thing happened in the UK, but anxiety and depression on the part of teens taking the GCSE tests are bound to occur at higher rates, given the high-stakes nature of the exams.

One big difference in England and Wales, though, is that students submit work they do in class, graded by their teachers, during their last two years of high school, and those marks count toward their exam scores. In the US, exam scores don’t take into account class grades, although colleges and universities that use test scores also take into account high school grades for the purpose of college admission.

But the stakes for the exams are higher in England and Wales. Not only are the exams provided in several different subjects—math, English, history, and a few others—but they are also given at different levels. Students have to achieve a certain score at one level before advancing to the next level, and achieving certain marks on the top tier, known as A-level, especially in math and English, is generally a requirement for starting college or university studies.

In the US, where students who enroll in college pay for it, some colleges and universities don’t worry so much about exam scores. But kids in England who achieve the required marks on the A-level exams can go to college tuition-free, paid for (except for fees, which are sometimes substantial) by the government. That puts pressure on students to perform well on the exams.

Lauren Stocks told Labour Party delegates:

There’s a statistic we were shown when I was about 13 or 14 that told me three in 10 people in every classroom suffer with a mental illness.

(Not true.) It’s a good half.

I could’ve walked into any food tech, history, art, maths classroom and just watched seas of spaced-out, stressed-out, depressed kids, in a battlefield where they can’t afford pens and paper

It is a disgusting sight.

She then urged any parents of teenagers that might hear her to make sure their kids knew they were loved.

“We recognize there are challenges facing the profession including a more demanding curriculum and higher expectations for pupils,” the BBC quoted a Department of Education spokesman as saying. “Where staff are struggling we trust head teachers to take action to tackle the causes of stress and ensure they have the support they need. The government has also taken steps to reduce the burden of exams on young people including removing multiple, pointless [retesting] and investing ¬£1.4 billion [$1.88 billion] in children’s mental health services.”

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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