The Exam Factory

6 April 2015

By Lauren E. White

New research for a leading teachers’ union has surfaced suggesting that the ‘exam factory conditions’ in schools are leading to students developing eating disorders and even self-harming.

The study, investigated by Professor Merryn Hutchings from London for the National Union of Teachers (NUT), shows that pupils are becoming ‘anxious, stressed and disaffected’ because of the new and more rigorous curriculum  brought in by former Education Secretary Michael Gove. Gove’s time in charge of education has forced pupils to work at a level of which they are not ready for and has also increased pressure on teachers as well as making many of them feel as though all they do is ‘tick boxes’. His curriculum introduced harder exams at GCSE level by increasing the content students have to learn and changing the style of the examination process causing uproar among both students and their teachers.

As a part of the research, a survey of 800 teachers found that staff had identified ‘a wide range of pupils who have suffered from depression, self-harm, thoughts of suicide and eating disorders’. It was also added that teachers claimed that ‘stress about exams or tests was often the immediate trigger [for those conditions]’.

But many wonder if it is any surprise that children feel as though their only option is to end their life, self-harm or begin a toxic diet – especially since three children in every class of 30 suffer from a mental health disorder. So with Gove’s pressurising demands that are still very much a reality for many students around the UK, the study suggests that the young generation are already spreading themselves too thin.

“It is deeply saddening that some of the pupils interviewed as part of this research feel reduced to a statistic – jumping through hoops for the benefit of others and with no space to discover the creative and positive learning that school should provide,” said Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT.

However, the current Education Secretary Nicky Morgan and Labour’s education spokesman Tristam Hunt have acknowledged that schools need to ‘move away’ from the ‘exam factory’ model and concentrate more on character building and communication skills.

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