As of this year, GCSE qualifications in England are being revised to make them more demanding. Starting with GCSE English and Maths in August 2017, a new 9 to 1 grading scale has replaced A* to G, with 9 being the highest grade. By 2020, all GCSEs in England will be reformed and graded with numbers rather than letters. The old and new GCSE grading scales do not directly compare but it is safe to assume that the bottom of grade 4 is aligned with the bottom of grade C.
With children's charity Childline reporting that 3,135 counselling sessions were required over the last year in order to help pupils cope with exam pressure (equivalent to almost nine a day), it is clear that young students are already experiencing extreme stress because of these exams. The new GCSE grading system has been criticized by many, with GCSE students speaking out about the negative effects this change is having on their mental health.
A major reason stated for this change in GCSEs, is to allow potential employers to see easily whether a student has taken a new, more challenging GCSE, or an old GCSE. This begs the important question of whether a change resulting in even higher levels of stress threatening students' mental health is worth it for those employers. Some employers may go as far to say that whether a child has taken an older GCSE or a newer more challenging GCSE is irrelevant, and means very little compared to other factors such as passion and motivation. An applicant's ability to be proactive, think creatively and their willingness to take on feedback and learn could easily be considered far more important than the type of GCSE that she/he has taken. It could therefore be argued that these reforms are undesirable both from the students' perspective and from an employer's perspective.
A report by the Children's Commissioner for England has recently reported that over 800,000 children are suffering from mental health problems in England alone. With mental health problems on the increase and with 94% of secondary school teachers agreeing that pupils were driven towards stress-related conditions during exam periods; it is hard to believe that making GCSEs even more challenging would be worth the additional stress the reforms will cause students throughout the country. It has been reported by the Health Quality Improvement Partnership that 29% of suicides of under 20s were completed by students facing exams or exam results at time of death, and now the amount of student suicides has risen to their highest level since 2007.
With mental health problems so prevalent in UK students, and with factors other than exam results often being considered more important by employer's in selection processes, it is difficult to support the introduction of even more challenging exams to 16 year old students, who already feel so pressured at such a young age.
Altruist Enterprises are committed to raising awareness of mental health and helping schools to prevent, identify and tackle mental health problems amongst pupils and teachers. To find out more about our training workshops and twilight sessions, please click here.
CORRECTION: This blog previously claimed that Office for National Statistics figures indicated that 29% of suicides of under 20s were completed by students facing exams or exam results at time of death. That number in fact comes from a report by the Health Quality Improvement Partnership, which can be read here