GCSE grades improve but campaigners warn tests take a toll on mental health

Many young people have been left feeling “disillusioned, disengaged and stressed”.

A teenager studying

Pass rates and the percentage of top grades have shifted slightly upwards in this years GCSE exams, but campaigners fear that better results have come with more severe consequences.

Over 700,000 teenagers received their results on Thursday, and across England, Wales and Northern Ireland the pass rate rose 0.4 percent, while the percentage of papers with a 7 (which used to be an A) or above rose by 0.3 percent.

The slight improvement comes despite an overhaul in the way GCSEs are carried out, with coursework no longer carrying much weight when it comes to grades.

Teens are also faced with the battle of more tests at the end of the year, rather than tests throughout term time.

The increasingly difficult structure of examination and GCSEs has been reflected by the way grade boundaries have moved.

This year, some students taking chemistry would be awarded a grade 9 ( an A**) if they got 80 percent of the paper right. A pass would be awarded if 22.5 percent of the paper was right. 

In French, a pass was achieved at 30 percent, and a grade 9 at 81 percent. 

The National Education Union has warned that many young people have been left feeling “disillusioned, disengaged and stressed” from their GCSE exams, and that there has been a clear impact on mental health and well being of students. 

Nansi Ellis, Assistant General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “It is a major concern that, according to NEU members, the assessment method of the reformed GCSEs is significantly worse for the mental health of students – with 73 percent of members saying this. 

“Removing coursework and having most subjects assessed entirely by exams taken at the end of Year 11 makes GCSEs an all-or-nothing, high stakes experience for students, completely unnecessarily, and focuses study on what will be best for passing the exam, rather than on developing a wider skill set.

“To add to this, both the difficulty and size of GCSE content has increased with the reforms. The result is that the majority of schools are feeling forced to start GCSE courses in Year 9, or even earlier, with a view to getting through everything.

“Academics, think tanks and political figures from across the sector, such as former Education ministers and the current chair of the Education Select Committee, are joining education professionals in calling for the scrapping of these measures. Besides the narrowing of the curriculum they cause, many have pointed out how they simply do not, and no matter the tinkering will not accurately measure school effectiveness, rendering them unfit for purpose.”

Meka Beresford is a freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter.

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6 Responses to “GCSE grades improve but campaigners warn tests take a toll on mental health”

  1. Dave Roberts

    The National Education Union is a Trotskyist controlled organisation which complains about everything. Well done to all those young people who now know about stress and achievement. Some of these commentators want to do the thirty two week Royal Marine course that I did when I was nineteen then they would know what stress was about.

  2. Chester Draws

    External exams were developed to prevent the rich and privileged from being able to apply the full weight of their privilege. Since the marker doesn’t know the student, the grades are not based on what the student “should” get.

    If the Left wants to remove external exams, it needs to be aware that will disadvantage the poorest and least privileged greatly. If you cannot rely on external exams, then people will fall back on the proxies they used to use: which school you went to, who your parents are, where you are from.

    The solution to removing privilege is to ensure that the poorest schools are safe, have good teachers and use a sensible curriculum that teaches knowledge. Not bleat about how some end of year exams cause stress. That stress is nothing compared to being at a rubbish inner city school and knowing that your future is being blighted by the inability of the school to keep classes quiet enough and safe enough so that hard working students can learn.

  3. Dave Roberts

    Well said Chester. Too much generation snowflake.

  4. Tom Sacold

    The examination system should not be in the hands of private companies who use it to make a profit.

    We should expect examinations to be difficult and require hard work and intelligence to get the highest grades. People have different capabilities and results would be expected to reflect that. Pressure is part of the process.

    To provide a successful socialist society we need to ensure the best minds are selected and promoted for the benefit of all.

  5. Michael Fitchett

    with six O-Levels, 4 A Levels and three degrees from British universities, I think I am entitled to say that the only thing passing an exam proves is that you know how to pass exams. it does not prove that you can actually DO anything.

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