We have reached that time of year again. You would have to be living on Mars to miss the bombardment from newspapers, magazines and social media extolling top revision tips and syllabus revision strategies to eager students (and their parents) as they prepare students and parents for the upcoming exam season.
As revision timetables are glued to fridges and omega-3 brain foods are packed into kitchen cupboards, today’s detailed coverage of HMC’s recent survey on exam stress makes for depressing reading. Key findings from the report include growing concerns about a surge in cases of self-harm, depression, anxiety and eating disorders amongst pupils in schools across the country resulting from unprecedented levels of exam pressure and a dramatic increase in the level of expectation being felt from all quarters. The survey’s compelling call to action is for teachers and parents to work together to combat the high levels of anxiety amongst those pupils preparing to sit – and achieve – in public examinations.
It should not go unnoticed that the release of HMC’s survey findings coincides with the publication of Caitlin Moran’s open letter to teenage girls. Moran’s poignant letter does not make for easy reading but enigmatically puts the reality many teens are facing today into sharp focus. The letter is in response to the interactions the activist and feminist has had with teenage girls across the country and implores them “to know that you were not born like this. You were not born scared and self-loathing and overwhelmed”.
So why do these two publications, which centre on teenage matters, concern me as a Junior Head, who spends her time leading a school of girls many years away from the pressure of public examinations?
Whilst the relaxation workshops, anxiety classes for parents and high-profile mental health agenda advocated by the findings of the HMC report, are undoubtedly eminently sensible, it is, I fear, a case of too little too late.
Never before have I been more certain of my belief that emotional and psychological resilience and well-being must be developed in the very earliest years of child development.
Junior Schools have a duty to deliver a robust and holistic approach to student development from the outset. Effective Early Years practice is characterised by open and strong parent dialogue; parents and practitioners working together to nurture and develop young learners.
Aspirational high-expectations coexist in a culture of trust and support where young learners achieve excellence in the safe knowledge that they are coming from a network of positive and open relationships. We all have a duty to maintain this momentum far beyond the kindergarten years and break the cycle of anxiety that is plaguing too many teenage lives.
Our Flourish and Fly programme at Junior School, introduced last year, is designed to inspire, challenge and embolden our students to discover their individual talents and look over and around perceived obstacles to their success.
This is not a fledgling idea but a fully grown approach that works across all year groups and subjects, ensuring students feel empowered and resilient to be what they want to be and do what they want to do when the time comes.
As we say throughout the school: we can’t predict what the future will hold for our students when they leave us but we can prepare them with the skills – psychological and academic – that they will need to face that future head on and become happy, confident adults with a positive knowledge of their own abilities and self-worth.
You can read more about Flourish and Fly and recent activity weeks in the programme, here:-
By Claire Boyd, Head of Junior School (19 April 2016)