We heard from young people that:
“Weirdly, exams do motivate us. We aren’t motivated to learn because we are passionate, but by fear of failure, and wanting to pass an exam. With the pandemic and exams cancelled, lots of us thought “What’s the point’?”. It felt like we had been gearing up for exams, and it made me sad to realise that”
“Exams are a one-off and if you have a bad day, that’s it. With greater awareness around mental health, exams carry huge pressure because even if you might know everything, it’s hard to put it down on paper on one day. A lot of our future depends on that one day and it shouldn’t be that way.”
“Exams are contradictory. A lot of kids who did not do well in GCSEs have actually done really well in their life. We have to sit in a hall and write for two hours which doesn’t show all of your strengths.”
Stephen reflected that while exams were originally designed to help young people succeed and recognise their progress, there seems to be a disconnect between this intent and the sad fact that exams often feel high-stakes, and more of an ‘ultimatum’.
Instead, young people shared their vision not just for memory skills, but for broader, practical skills to be included in exams such as team working and leadership. Young people also wanted all subjects to be valued. While triple science might be good for some, it shouldn’t be branded as just for the ‘clever kids’. Other subjects like sociology or psychology were sometimes branded an ‘easy pass’ and this needs to change so all subjects are appreciated and learners can study the subjects they enjoy and are good at.
With Stephen asking where young people get their support from, many shared their strong relationships with particular teachers, students and their family who support them through the difficult times. However, some regretted that their schools still didn’t have proper funding for mental health professionals, that once they transition to college, support from SENDco staff was no longer available, and that schools could include healthy mindset sessions, giving students 1:1 support and skills on how to manage stress and build resilience.