Mental health awareness week, a rise to break the taboo and to highlight that it is OK not to be OK. No one should have to put a front on their emotions and feelings for the sake of others. There has been a dramatic rise in young people experiencing mental distress, depression and anxiety. There are so many lifestyle choices that it would be impossible to blame the increase on any particular specific factor, but there is no denying that the pressure young people are put under probably plays a huge part.
I was struck by the irony on social media that the same week when I saw the posts about mental health awareness week, I was also seeing the posts from parents about exam week. Young people nation wide are sitting their SATs and GCSEs this week. I have seen posts written by young people, and discussed with parents and teachers and have my own personal experience of the pressures surrounding these tests, it is clear that the pressure to succeed and do well is high, and who is benefiting from that?
Of course when there is a career path that a young person is choosing to follow, then they work to achieve what they need to make that easier such as achieving requirements for college entry. But for young people sitting their SATs, and those older teens who are sitting GCSEs in subjects that they hold no passion for but the school insist that they have to “pick one from each box”, what of those young people? A college does not require 6+ GCSEs for entry, so why are children put under this level of pressure to achieve? Why are these young people not being supported, encouraged and reassured? Why is there not more emphasis on health and wellbeing amongst school children, instead the focus is on attainment, averages and attendance.
A child performing “below average” is cause for concern but the rule of averages itself means that some children will be below that mark. And this testing and scoring starts so very young. Children are expected now to be able to perform academically upon starting school. Children as young as 3 and 4 being expected to be learning to read and write without the fun of being free. I see parents worrying that their very young children are behind their peers, while older children sit their Mocks and are estimated to get poor marks and told hard to work harder and do their best, when they already did their best in their mocks and so it is instilled in them that their best is not good enough.
I have a 16 yr old. When she was at school in year 6 doing her SATs she was admitted to hospital with chest pains and struggling to breathe. This marked the start of her anxiety. I am sure there were markers before this, looking back I can see the signs were there but until we reached hospital admission and diagnosis it was unclear to me. She was removed from school in 2014, as was my now 13 yr old son, and things that have since become clear left me in no doubt that school would not be the bet way forward for my younger children.
My 13 yr old is a very talented artist, he is working towards his bronze Arts Award and is trying new techniques, he is mostly self taught and is completely self motivated with his practise. At school he was totally turned off “art”….. copying other peoples work did not appeal to him, and being compared to others knocked his confidence in his abilities. I experienced the same in him with regards to creative writing, he is a brilliant story writer and yet he thought he hated writing as for him at school it would be cause for complaint.
My 16 yr old has had to work hard to overcome her difficulties. She has been hit by ill health on top of her depression and her anxiety. She has achieved her Bronze Duke of Edinburgh award, she has work experience, has sat iGCSEs, is gaining qualifications in English, Maths and IT and is learning Motor Mechanics at a training centre. However, th damage done in school by bullying took its toll and there have been many ups and downs, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing. I don’t think that this will change quickly or ever really completely go away, but she has found copying strategies and has determination to not let it affect her the way it once did. Nor do I think it is something that we are experiencing alone.
More and more parents message me each week, children refusing school, schools failing to deal with bullying issues, failing to provide for Special Educational Needs (SEN) children, failing to acknowledge or accept mental health issues, Children self harming. The list goes on. The waiting list for any kind of therapy or counselling for young people is bottomless. Parents feeling that they have no choice but to home educate, it becomes a life saving measure. It shouldn’t come to that, but in far too many cases, it does.
I look at my son who will be 4 in less than a week. He would be starting school in September. He cant read, but he loves books. He cant write but he loves pencils and colouring. He is happy, he is knowledgeable, he is confident. These are traits that I don’t want him to lose, I am not prepared to sacrifice his individualism, his curiosity or his confidence for the sake of forced academics when I am 100% sure that those skills will also come in time, when he is ready. Just like walking, talking and all the other skills he has already mastered. I do not need to have my children compared to a classroom full of other children their age, I do not need an annual report of their progress and I do not need to put pressure on my children to achieve something that is of no interest or long term benefit to them.
It is the job of a school to mass produce paper success and once each year group leave the school they are no longer schools concern, therefore the focus is, understandably, on that paper legacy. The exam results. My job as I see it, is to raise secure, stable and happy young people who know how to learn, who are able to learn throughout their lives and who can succeed at being happy.