The mental health of children as young as six years old has been troubled by exam stress, education staff have told the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

420 ATL members responded to a poll on the topic, and almost half said pupils in their school had self harmed, and 89% said testing was the main source of stress.  Some staff even said that some pupils were attempting suicide. 18 of these cases occurred in primary schools.

Teaching staff have complained that the pressures placed upon children as young as 10 and 11 – at the end of primary school – are excessive. This pressure is caused by SATS tests at the end of primary school, and the increasing need for students to do well.

Others have blamed the government for raising the stakes when it come to testing and exams, affecting some of the youngest children in schools.

A head of a Norfolk primary school said: “Mental health issues are probably our biggest barrier to academic progress.

“As head of school I am spending more and more of my time supporting children with mental health issues,” added the head, who added that the member of staff responsible for pastoral care was “now snowed under”.

A member of staff from a secondary school in London reported an “increase in physical symptoms of stress and self harm.”

It’s unsurprising that the number of students experiencing extreme stress has increased, as there is more demand for higher grades when going into work and university. However, the fact it’s affecting those at primary level should be a cause for concern.

The London school staff member also said that “suicidal thoughts have escalated beyond control.”

A primary school teacher from Somerset has criticised the fact that “teachers are not social workers, psychologists or therapists but are increasingly expected to fulfil these roles.”

But this being said, a Department of Education spokeswoman urged teachers to support their students in times of pressure, which is just not practical. Many teachers are already leaving their profession because of numerous constraints. The spokesperson has said the government is spending £1.4bn on improving children’s mental health services in Britain, with a massive £150m marked for eating disorders and self harm, while £1.5m will be invested in peer support schemes.