Increasing pressures on young children… and the solution

Lacy Chapman, Head of Lower School at ACS Cobham International School takes a look at the increasing strains on primary school children and examines some of the potential solutions.

ACS primary school teaching
A recent survey revealed that eight out of ten school leaders have seen an increase in mental health issues among primary school children during exam season in the UK.In addition, school leaders reported an increase in fear of academic failure (76 per cent) and depression (55 per cent) among their pupils in the period since 2014.

Pressures on young children

It seems today’s pressurised system of testing is causing children as young as six to suffer stress and worry at a time when they’re supposed to be learning to love school and growing in confidence.Instead, young students are increasingly fearing failure due to an endless stream of testing.In addition to the increasing pressures of school life, a family relocation can be an unsettling period for children.Moving from one country to another can create a wealth of opportunities for children, allowing them to develop new friendships and be exposed to different hobbies – but it’s important schools help students adjust to their new environment to ease any worries or stresses.With wide-ranging pressures bearing down on children today, both inside and beyond the classroom, shouldn’t a different approach, one, which abandons rigorous, formal testing and nurtures children, should be the norm?We should ask this of schools in order to protect young people’s emotional wellbeing, encourage their imagination and an instil an essential love of learning.

How can school support relocation worries?

Schools play a significant role in helping children adjust to their new environment and international schools, such as ACS International Schools, have ample experience and are ideally placed to support children moving between different counties, countries or continents.At ACS, all campuses have dedicated, full-time school counsellors for each year group.A large part of their role is working with new students to ensure that they hit the ground running – often a student’s ability to settle quickly into their new school determines the success of the moving period and impacts their own learning journey.
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Formal testing is killing curiosity

In the UK, standardised, national tests, like SATs or CAT tests, which require students to revise specific subjects for a formal exam, are unquestionably sources of stress for young children.Being assessed in such a formal manner at a young age places a huge amount of pressure on students and stifles their natural curiosity to learn.Children aren’t being encouraged to be inquisitive and creative, and rather are put on a constant treadmill of cramming facts, revision and taking tests.

Alternative solutions

With increasing pressure on the UK government to overhaul primary school testing, schools and parents want to see alternatives to the traditional system to one where student progress is monitored but the damaging pressures of exams is off.Removing SATs and other standardised tests from schools allows students, parents and teachers to escape the exam rat race, league tables and the competitive nature of the classroom.Here at ACS Cobham International School, for example, we use MAP (Measure of Academic Progress) testing in lower school to monitor student progress.Taken on a computer each year, these ‘smart’ tests ask and adjust questions based on the student’s ability – making the tests different for every child.National standardised systems ensure teachers have targets they need to hit, ‘pupils must read by this age’, ‘spell their name by age four’, which means as soon as a young child walks into a classroom they must practise these skills while being monitored closely.At ACS, teachers teach the way they were taught to teach – that is, each child receiving the individual attention they need to thrive and progress at their own speed.MAP testing allows them to do this and monitor progress, identifying where an individual needs extra support, or differentiating tasks for those who particularly excel.We also help students make their own choices about their classwork, helping to identify which task is best suited to them.A developmentally challenging and rigorous programme is still provided, but it’s a personalised and inquiry-based approach developed to suit different types of learners and emphasise creative, imaginative and critical thinking and learning, as opposed to high-stakes assessment.

Testing without the stress

Due to the nature of MAP testing, with no set time limit and tailored questions, students can’t revise for it. All we suggest to parents is that they try and help their children get a decent night’s sleep beforehand and a good breakfast to set them up for the day.At ACS International Schools students are not only measured on their academic progress but also against our school learning outcomes.We want all students to develop as confident, caring individuals and effective learners. And surely isn’t promoting positive personal development, fostering a curious mind and nurturing a child’s well-being is what primary education is all about?For related news and features, visit our Education & Schools section. Look out for the launch of 2018's Relocate Awards, entries open in January. Relocate’s new Global Mobility Toolkit provides free information, practical advice and support for HR, global mobility managers and global teams operating overseas.Access hundreds of global services and suppliers in our Online DirectoryClick to get to the Relocate Global Online Directory  

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