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Exam season looms: Keep mental health in mind

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

The start of the summer term marks the beginning of one the most stressful periods of the school year – exam season. Obviously, it stands to reason that this is the time of the year when students are likely to feel the pressure the most.

But it’s also a time that can be fraught with anxieties and concerns for teachers too. The school classroom can easily become a pressure cooker of emotions and worries in the run up to exams. Therefore, as exam season creeps up on us, schools need to make sure that the mental health of students (and staff) is kept in mind. The power of a sympathetic and supportive ear With only a few weeks to go before the first GCSE exams of the summer are sat, now is not the time to bemoan the fact that schools have been turned into exam factories.

Now is not the time to debate the unfairness of the narrow curriculum that many schools now offer their students. No, it is what it is, and we are where we are.

Nothing is going to change in the next few weeks.

But the way we treat, teach and talk to our students during this period could make a world of difference to them. Of course, it shouldn’t really be any different from any other time of the year, but now much more than ever teachers need to be showing their supportive side: mentoring, cajoling, praising – it’s the time for pep talks, quiet words and metaphorical ‘arms around shoulders’. We should never underestimate the power of a sympathetic, supportive ear, and just ‘being there’ for students. Simple gestures, such as being with your class just before they go into an exam, do go a long way. Don’t forget that there is a mental health crisis in schools Teachers should never forget (not that they ever would) that the shocking increase in mental health referrals involving young people in the last 3 years is nothing short of a crisis. Again, sadly the current sorry situation is not going to get significantly better in the next few weeks.

However, although teachers should never be blamed for the mental health crisis, they should be mindful that they could unwittingly make things worse for any individual in the way they treat students in the next few weeks. That sounds harsh and it’s really not meant to be.

It’s just a timely reminder that the way we interact with other people – especially when anxiety and stress is rife – can really have an impact (good and bad). In the big scheme of things, well-being provision, CAMHS, and mindfulness training are all important – vital, in fact.

However, when times are tough (as they are in a period of time such as exam season), the influence of positive relationships and friendships can actually have the biggest impact and influence. A smile here, a kind word there.

This is what can really make a difference to a young person who is really the pressure.