Academics have started to look for the causes of the increase in mental health problems among teenagers, as in this article.
As a mother and grandmother I could not help but notice how the school lives of both primary and secondary pupils have been made increasingly more stressful with the introduction of SATs and league tables over the past 25 years. I would like to remind people what led to their arrival and intensification, starting in 1991.
At the end of the 1980s Many politicians had become increasingly concerned about the UK’s poor literacy and numeracy levels, as reported by various surveys. Poor literacy worried them most, because it is difficult to impossible to learn much of anything without learning to read and write first. Even maths becomes more and more difficult for pupils cannot read questions or understand written explanations.
At first, SATs were intended just to establish exactly how bad things were. The introduction of league tables and Ofsted rating schools from ‘outstanding’ to ‘failing’, according to their SATs results, has increasingly turned them into an instrument for putting teachers under pressure to make their pupils work harder. This led to everyone becoming progressively more stressed and worried by them.
It has also led to many of the things that made school more enjoyable, such as sport, music, art and drama, being drastically reduced. Year 6 especially has become devoted mainly to SATs practice from September onwards in many schools.
We know that too much work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. What is less acknowledged is the misery that overwork can also cause. Even less attention is paid to the effects of being made constantly aware that you are not doing well.
The pupils who don’t perform well in their SATs and leave school with few GCSEs, are made conscious of their lack of success from a young age, and have it reinforced throughout their schooling. This does nothing for their self-esteem or mental resilience. Even pupils who do relatively well, have been made much more aware that some do better.
The saddest thing of all is that the UK’s literacy standards, which led to the introduction of this insane measuring and shaming, remain just as bad as they were before the arrival of SATs and league tables. – One in six pupils still leaves school functionally illiterate. – All that extra pressure on teachers and kids has been for nothing.
English illiteracy is not a problem that can be cured with just working harder. Around 20% of English-speaking children and adults, in all Anglophone countries, fail to become functionally literate, simply because the irregularities of English spelling make learning to read and write too difficult for them. They have above average trouble learning to read because of the variable pronunciations of 69 English spellings, like ‘o’ in ‘only, one, other, won, woman, women, womb’. They have even greater problems with memorising umpteen unpredictable spellings for one sound in at least 4,219 common words, like ‘blue, shoe, flew, through, to, you, too’.
The only way to improve English literacy standards is to make learning to read and write easier, by making English spelling more sensible. But spelling reform is a complete no-no for many.
It has, however, become very clear that the stress, which pupils and teachers are put under by SATs and league tables cannot remedy this. So let’s at least stop making pupils more miserable than need be with too much pointless testing.