NSPCC Says Exam Stress Is Hitting Pupils

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Young people overwhelmed by exam pressure.

  • Thousands across the UK receive counselling from Childline about exam stress
  • Girls five times more likely to seek help than boys
  • Childline reveals thousands of young people have turned to them for support as they struggle to cope with the pressure of exam stress. 

The NSPCC has offered advice on how to cope with exam stress.

New figures from the NSPCC have been revealed as children all over the country prepare for their exams, with Childline delivering 2,795 counselling sessions on exam stress in 2018/19 – with around a third taking place in April and May.

Staff and volunteers at Childline’s two Northern Ireland bases in Belfast and Foyle delivered 356 of these counselling sessions to children contacting them from across the UK.

Young people who were stressed about their exams told Childline they were worried about disappointing their parents; trying their best and still failing; having excessive workloads and feeling unmotivated to revise.

A teenage boy speaking to Childline said:“I am about to take my GCSEs and I am under so much stress that I find it hard to motivate myself. My friends are studying a lot which is putting me under more pressure. I’ve tried talking to my mum but it ends up in an argument as she gets angry when I don’t study.”

Other young people told Childline counsellors the prospect of taking exams was having an adverse effect on their mental health, with some coping by self-harming and others saying they were feeling suicidal.

The most common ages for exam stress counselling were with 15 and 16 year olds, as they worked towards their GCSEs.

Childline is urging all young people to speak out if they are stressed about their exams, especially boys as figures reveal they are five times less likely than girls to talk to counsellors about the pressure they are under.

Anna Williamson, Childline counsellor and writer of teen book, How Not to Lose It said: “It is vital that family, friends and teachers are there to support children and teenagers during this stressful time. 

“My advice to parents would be to never say ‘it wasn’t like this in my day’- children won’t care and it isn’t about you. Also never compare siblings. What you can do is ask if they need anything, say you are proud of them and offer an end-of-exams celebration to help them visualise it being over.”

Dame Esther Rantzen, Founder and President of Childline, said: “I hated exams, and I absolutely understand why they stress so many young people out. They can be important, but they shouldn’t be overwhelming.

“That’s why it’s vital that Childline is there to support any young people who feel the pressure is unbearable.”

The NSPCC has the following advice for young people taking exams:

•             Make sure you take regular breaks from revising and do some exercise

•             Go to bed at a reasonable time and try and get some sleep

•             Try to think positively – even if you don’t feel like it, a positive attitude will help you during your revision

•             Remember that everyone’s different – try not to compare yourself to your friends

Advice for parents and carers to help ease exam stress:

•             Don’t place unnecessary pressure on your children to gain certain grades

•             Encourage children to take regular breaks, eat snacks and exercise

•             Help them revise by leaving them the space and time to do so

•             Be supportive and help alleviate their worries by talking to them

Advice for teachers:

•             Facilitate classroom discussions to get students talking about exam stress

•             Encourage students to take regular breaks from studying for exams

•             Encourage students to talk to you or other teachers about exam stress 

Adults concerned about a child can contact the NSPCC helpline seven days a week on 0808 800 5000, or email help@nspcc.org.uk. Children can call Childline on 0800 11 11 or www.childline.org.uk any time of the day or night.