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Shropshire pupils facing rising epidemic of exam stress

By Amy Wall | Education | Published:

Exam stress is putting help services under pressure, with students suffering mental health issues and even suicidal thoughts.

Today schools in Shropshire spoke of their work they do to help students through their GCSE and A-levels.

It comes as new evidence shows the rising levels of anxiety caused to teenagers as they prepare for the start of this week's exams.

Childline today said it is seeing an 11 per cent rise in calls year-on-year, with almost 900 counselling sessions provided in the last two years in the West Midlands including Shropshire.

In extreme cases, teenagers call the charity in severe distress and needing medical intervention.

A new report released today shows that pressure is also felt at primary school level, with 45 per cent of children feeling anxious about their Sats tests.

Students taking GCSE exams starting this week face a new grading system, based on a new exam-based curriculum. This has led to greater uncertainty and anxiety as they and their teachers get to grip with new material.

Peak

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Peter Wanless of Childline's West Midland office, which covers Shropshire, said he was expecting a sharp peak in calls this week, adding: “Every year we hear from children who are struggling to cope with the pressure to succeed in exams.

"For some this can feel so insurmountable that it causes crippling anxiety and stress and in some cases contributes to serious mental health issues or even suicidal thoughts and feelings.

“Exams are important but worrying and panicking about them can be counter productive, leaving young people unable to revise and prepare. It is vital that young people are supported by family, friends and teachers during the exam period to help them do the best they can.”

Neil Church, curriculum team leader at Ludlow College, said: "This is a really busy and quite stressful time for both students and staff at Ludlow.

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"We've done everything we can do to prepare our students for their exams, including running extra revision sessions and additional help.

"We tell out students that there's no point stressing over upcoming questions that they can't foresee. All they can do is prepare as best they can, and try their hardest to relax on the big day."

Big increase in school referrals to mental health services

The number of children referred to mental health services through schools has increased by over a third in the last three years, the NSPCC has revealed.

In a Freedom of Information request to NHS Trusts in England, the charity found schools made 123,713 referrals to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) since 2014/15.

South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare NHS Foundation CAMHS Trust received requests for help for 672 pupils in 2017/18 – up from 419 in 2016/17.

The data also revealed 56 per cent of the referrals came from primary schools.

The NSPCC is now calling on the government to invest in early support services for children.

Over the last three years, nearly a third of referrals from schools to CAMHS, for trusts who were able to provide the information, were declined treatment as they did not meet the criteria for support.

Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC said: “Our research shows schools are increasingly referring children for specialist mental health treatment, often when the child is at crisis point.

“Childline plays a vital role in supporting children with their mental health, and many turn to us when they are struggling to get access to specialist treatment. Early counselling from Childline could also help relieve the pressure on CAMHS.

“We have seen a marked increase in counselling about mental health, and fully expect it to continue. It is vital that Government urgently provides more funding to Childline and help children who don’t have access to support elsewhere.”

Separate research released today reveals ‘difficult’ exams leave 45 per cent of primary school children anxious as they fear being ‘embarrassed’ by their results. A poll of pupils taking their Key Stage Two SATs shows increasing numbers of children are becoming weighed down by exams – with nearly a quarter admitting they couldn’t concentrate on their work because they felt so under pressure. The research, led by Kellogg’s, shows 41 per cent of the children struggled with their tests, describing them as ‘quite difficult’ and nearly one in 10 said they were ‘very difficult’.

Around 30 per cent of 10 and 11-year-olds surveyed across the UK say their biggest concern was being embarrassed by their results, with 15 per cent worrying their friends would get better marks.

The survey was released today as thousands of children reflect on their Sats and older students prepare for GCSE and A-level exams.

In recent years many parent groups across the UK have branded the primary school Sat exam pressure on children as ‘unnecessary’.

However it would appear parents are still front of mind when it comes to getting top marks, nearly 40 percent of children describing ‘their biggest worry’ during their exams as letting their parents down.

Kellogg’s commissioned the survey to highlight the importance of breakfast ahead of exams.

Many schools in Shropshire and Mid Wales put on a free breakfast for their pupils ahead of the Sats exams and secondary schools have provided advice to parents on the importance of the first meal of the day to students.

Kellogg’s says it provides cereal to schools as part of a national breakfast club scheme. Its UK and Ireland director Paul Wheeler said: “Children are feeling stressed and hungry before their exams. By attending breakfast clubs the are given a boost that helps them to do their best.”

Amy Wall

By Amy Wall
Trainee reporter - @AmyWall_star

Trainee reporter based at head office in Ketley, Telford.

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