Are GCSEs Bad for Portsmouth Students’ Mental Health?

This summer students will sit tougher GCSEs in English and maths. As the exam season looms on the horizon, Portsmouth GCSE student, Tanzeela Rahman, reports on the pressure on teenage students’ mental health as they prepare for exams.

Balancing ten subjects all at the same time isn’t the easiest thing in the world. When every teacher is saying their subject is just as important as the others, how is a naïve sixteen year old meant to know what to do? Questions about college, university and your future are constantly being thrown at you while you’re expected to keep calm.

In less than two months every year eleven in the UK will be in that intimidating exam hall, sitting a GCSE with no idea what the future has in store for them. We are often told that people have been doing GCSEs for generations now, however every year it feels as though the scale of difficulty gets harder, while local students’ grip on their mental health loosens even further.

In 2015, the NSPCC reported that the number of young people in Britain seeking counselling over exam stress had increased by 200% in recent years. This summer, Michael Gove has promised that the maths and English GCSEs will be tougher still.

As well as teaching the subject, a teacher’s role is to spark students’ imaginations and prepare them for advanced education and jobs as adults. But for 16 year old student Lillie Faust, it feels like the pressure is mounting.

Lillie Faust told me:

“It gets harder the more you go up in the year, the teachers expectations gets higher which makes you feel bad about yourself if you can’t reach it.”

At this point of their lives teens are slipping into adulthood and deserve all the support they can get. Students usually isolate themselves from family and home during exam periods; they confide in their friends because they feel they’re the only people that can understand them.

Mixed anxiety and depression has been estimated to cause one fifth of days lost from work in Britain. To prevent this, children should be encouraged to solve their problems now, so it doesn’t affect their future.

In an attempt to express the pressure we are going through, I am writing to project the timid voices of students who are struggling to believe in themselves and are afraid of failing to reach their high expectations. Schools in Portsmouth and across the country need to prioritise students’ mental wellbeing as well as their education. Increasing their confidence will allow them to realize they’re not alone and see school as their comfort zone, rather than a place to just complete their school work.

Mental health includes your emotional, psychological and social wellbeing; it can affect your everyday life and determine how well you handle stress, relate to others and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, starting from youth. Children spend the majority of their time at school, therefore it is an ideal place to be taught at a young age how to control it so you do not fall into the dangerous hole of mental health problems.

Early signs of mental health problems could be:

  • pulling away from people or usual activities
  • feeling numb or like nothing matters
  • feeling a range of random emotions such as, being on edge, anger or sadness

Mental health problems must be diagnosed with help from doctors and health teams, however students shouldn’t be experiencing these symptoms as a consequence of educating themselves and preparing for their future careers.

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said that education is essential to good citizenship and that it is important to life because it enables people to contribute to their community and country. Portsmouth schools are successful at teaching their students, as proven by the GCSE results getting higher year by year. But I believe they can easily improve even further by making sure students are positive and enthusiastic in school, so they can reach the best of their capability.