When I was at primary school, I don’t remember feeling ‘stressed’ with exams. To be honest I don’t really remember having them! We obviously did, but they didn’t seem like an exam or the teachers didn’t put pressure and stress on us about the exams we were doing. It was just a part of the normal school day for us.
Nowadays all I hear about at the minute is the stress and worry surrounding the testing children at primary school are being put through, and how damaging it has become for the children and parents. A friend of mine is paying a tiny fortune to tutors in Maths and English so they can prepare their ten-year-old child for SATS! Another friend is frantically worried about the seven-year-old child in Year two as the goal posts have changed so dramatically since last year they are now slightly below where they need to be compared to last year when they were exactly where was needed. Is it me or has the education system gone mad!
It seems that Schools in this country have become a place of tension for children and teachers. Hearing parents tell me their children have homework every night, even from the age of four, seems madness to me. One friend has to google everything before she can help her daughter with homework as she doesn’t know what the question is asking! The teaching techniques and language is so different to how we were taught that our children are teaching us before we can help. How crazy is that?
Finland has consistently appeared at the top of the international league tables for education performance since 2000. As a country, they don’t start school until the age of seven, children are all taught equally and are not split up into groups of ability, they don’t wear uniforms, homework all through school life does not exceed thirty minutes per night, Schools don’t compete on a league table, school fees don’t exist and children call teachers by their first name. When it comes to the teachers, to be able to work in this industry you have to study for five years in degree courses and if you want to work in a primary school you have to be extremely knowledgeable in educational theory. Teachers are rewarded for this by giving them a great working environment. They only teach four lessons per day and are respected in their jobs. I know at least four people who have left the teaching profession in the UK due to the long hours they work prepping for lessons, marking and teaching. One of them worked out she was actually working for less than the minimum wage after calculating an hourly rate based on the long hours she was working. In Finland, only 10-15% of people leave a career in teaching. Am I missing something here? To me, it seems that when you take the stress out of the environment, the school as a whole performs better!
We have also seen Headteachers and teaching staff around the UK backing the campaign to start marking absences as ‘educational’ instead of ‘unauthorised’ for those children who were kept off in protest over the SATS exams. I’m wondering if this will also happen for those children taken out of school in term time to go on a family holiday. It has been proven that the wellbeing of a family relies on the amount of time you all spend together. It isn’t science really is it! Taking your child away to learn and experience a different culture, spend time socialising and having fun with each other and forgetting the stress at home is vital in maintaining good mental and emotional wellbeing. When the prices are double or even triple to go away in the school holidays, it can be impossible for a lot of people to afford it then, and yet it’s the parents who are forced to deal with the situation by either finding more money or being fined by the school.
Well until a big change happens to our Education system it seems it’s up to the individual schools and parents to ensure our children can cope with the environment they are in. For all the parents reading this, you need to look out for signs that your children are struggling with the pressure to succeed and perform well. These can include: – sleep disturbances, erratic/poor eating, low mood, excessive worrying, low confidence levels, frustration, anger and fear of failure. If your child is experiencing these symptoms it could lead to an early burnout that can then create the beginnings of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, eating and sleep disorders. Younger children might start to have night terrors or nightmares, become erratic in their behaviour and struggle to concentrate at school. Becoming withdrawn and struggling socially can also be signs.
To deal with these stresses at school it is important to remember as a parent to lead by example. If you are stressing out and reacting negatively towards the workload and exam then your child will copy your behaviour. Stay calm and supportive and take the pressure away from the home. Let home be a safe haven where stress can’t eat away at them.
It is also a great idea to be prepared for an exam as early as possible. I don’t mean studying either. Make sure your child has everything they need. Pens, calculator, etc. I know it sounds silly saying this but it will take the panic away from your child when they think they haven’t remembered to pack something. A good healthy diet is always a must to keep them going mentally and physically. Put exam prep notes around the house so they can see them all the time. Using different artistic or creative methods to learn the criteria is really useful. Music, art and relaxation techniques are great for children to practice to destress before a big test.
If you are worried about your child then talk to them. Working through fears and worries together will not only help the stress and tension in the room, it will also help your child realise they are not alone and having to deal with it all themselves.
There are many techniques you can learn and teach your children to cope with stress. Would it help to learn some really simple self-help techniques that they can use anytime and anywhere?
If you would like to suggest one of our Wellbeing Workshops to their school which is designed to help pupils and teachers, then please get them to contact me. You can also invest some time in bringing your child for reflexology treatments leading up to their exams.