Exam pressure is leading to “soaring rates” of anxiety and mental illness in teenagers, a teaching union boss warned today.
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the National Education Union, said exams were overused to the “point of exhaustion” in the education system.
She told a fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference in Brighton that this was causing “very bad and unintended consequences” such as “soaring rates” of adolescent anxiety and mental illness.
Bousted added: “Some of this is because of exam pressure. When you’re doing 30 GCSE exams in three weeks.
“I think we can all understand about the extreme pressure that puts on young people, some of them just can’t cope with it.
“It’s exhausting and terrifying. It also results in teaching to the test.”
During the panel on Sunday, Bousted said she was not against exams at all, but that the system meant a third of students are “destined to fail in every year”.
“The way the comparative outcomes work that’s built into the equation that a third of young people will get a level three or below and in particular in the core subjects of English and maths. That has profound consequences for their futures,” she added.
Bousted described it as a “terrible thing” to do that robs them of their futures and affects the most disadvantaged children.
She said they did not need to fail a third of pupils and that it was a “political choice”.
Former education secretary Gavin Williamson, who lost his role in Boris Johnson’s recent reshuffle, insisted throughout the pandemic that exams were the “fairest” way to assess pupils.
In a recent interview, Williamson said: “There isn’t a perfect form of assessment but exams are the best way.”
His successor Nadhim Zahawi inherits the task of moving GCSEs back to an test-based system next summer and away from the teacher assessed grades used during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the government announced pupils in up to 7,800 schools and colleges will benefit from a trained mental health lead tasked with identifying those who need support and improving access to specialist services.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.