I am a year 11 student who is currently sitting their GCSE examinations. Sally Weale’s article (‘My lunchtimes are filled with crying children’, 17 May) sheds some light on what people my age go through. Many people I know suffer from depression and anxiety, we lose sleep, we don’t want to wake up in the mornings and we are afraid to walk into the exam rooms.
We are told over and over again that if we do not achieve level 7 or above we will not be able to progress in the future. I am not very academic and my skills are in the creative arts. However, my passion for those things is taken away when I have to sit a written drama exam for 40% of my grade.
What are we teaching the younger generation by forcing year 11s to sit these exams? We are teaching them that the only way to achieve their dreams or be successful in what they want to do is by getting amazing GCSE results.
Please, our voices are not being listened to. GCSEs damage our perception of ourselves beyond belief. If the government refuses to hear the people sitting the exams, maybe it will listen to the Guardian. Thank you.
• There’s much good sense in Gaby Hinsliff’s piece on children’s mental health (Our children are over-stressed…, 19 May). But the building of emotional resilience she advocates won’t be remotely sufficient.
Modern schooling regimes profoundly damage the growth of the child’s psychological self, with a kind of “psychological violence” being perpetrated due to politician-driven curriculums, an obsession with “standards”, and an intensive surveillance through which our children are relentlessly disciplined, and with which hapless teachers must comply.
For years politicians of all parties have been in complete denial about the harmful impact of their Gradgrind, audit-culture obsessions, and their macho rhetoric of “driving up” standards. At last September’s Labour conference, the week’s loudest ovation was received when a 16-year-old delegate movingly spoke of how at least half of her peers are suffering from mental health issues because of the manic audit and accountability regime.
We urgently need support movements like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and the Save Childhood Movement to help head off modern society’s worst impacts; and society needs to begin processing its own anxieties rather than projecting them on to children. Free-market capitalism is toxic for children in multiple ways; and with children spending up to half their waking hours in school, the government must fundamentally reform the poisonous audit/accountability culture. More minor tinkerings won’t remotely address a malaise that has built up over decades. On a multitude of levels, it’s time for radical change.
Dr Richard House, chartered psychologist
• Concern over undue exam pressure is not new (The new GCSE exams pile on pressure and kill off passion for learning, theguardian.com, 18 May). In the last throes of “payment by results” in the 1880s there was a national debate about “over-pressure” – the strains produced in children by mental activity generally and school work in particular, arising from the government’s ever more complex and changing demands enshrined in regulation.
Questions were posed by medics as well as educationists: does over-pressure exist, is it increasing, can it be stopped; is it sex-biased, class-biased, or is malnutrition a factor?
Those same questions (including the last one) need to be posed and answered in relation to the new GCSEs. Their critics might take comfort from the fact that Victorian payment by results was soon phased out, partly as a result of the over-pressure controversy. If it happened a century ago, it could happen again given sufficient pressure, not on students but on the Department for Education.
Professor Colin Richards
Spark Bridge, Cumbria
• When my husband attended Manchester grammar school in the 60s, pupils took six O-levels (in order to satisfy matriculation) while still following a non-examined curriculum encompassing the arts, sciences, languages and humanities. (A-levels were more important, as they were the final examinations and the key to university entrance.) This meant that far more time was devoted to education rather than exam preparation.
There is no justifiable reason to subject 16-year-old pupils to numerous increasingly stressful examinations when the school leaving age is in effect 18, other than the government’s obsession with league tables and accountability.
Formal education should be about nurturing enthusiasm for learning and intellectual curiosity, not this soul-destroying insistence on testing and rigid thought. When will the government start listening to teachers?
Oldham, Greater Manchester
• Michael Gove’s reintroduction of three-hour exams and an ending of coursework for GCSE students put a nail in the coffin of problem-solving and creativity. Group work and problem-solving – no longer in the curriculum – encourage peer group interaction in which individuals hypothesise, guess, interpret, imagine, argue, disagree, agree, give opinions, or summarise: all essential tools for developing cooperation and successful work with colleagues in future workplaces. They are genuinely rigorous activities that encourage both knowledge and happiness in the classroom. After Gove they have disappeared in favour of arduous exam preparation, which is onerous, laborious, relentless, fatiguing, and intolerable.
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
• GCSEs prior to Michael Gove’s “reforms” enabled all young people to succeed at some level. We now appear to want children to fail. To pick up the mindless work we have expected eastern Europeans to do?
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