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  • Writer's pictureThe WMF

Why We Need to Consider Mental Health in Exam Taking

Recent research suggests that we should let teenagers who suffer from depression postpone their exams.

A new long term study has established that teenagers who struggle with depression significantly underachieve in their GCSEs. The King’s College, London has suggested that due to this, pupils who suffer should be given the option to postpone or stagger their exams. This study comes at a time when we are expecting children’s mental health to suffer due to experiences during the Covid lockdown.

The study, which was led by King’s PhD student Alice Wickersham, followed the educational results of around 1,500 children over seven years between 2007 and the end of 2013. All of the students had received a depression diagnosis before they reached the age of 18, and the most common age was by 15. The results show that a worryingly 83% of the students reached the expected level of attainment in primary school, but by the time the same students reached year 11, only 45% achieved the then benchmark of five good GCSEs including Maths and English. This follows on from the results of previous studies which have also found that depression in childhood is linked to lower school performance.

King’s PhD student Alice Wickersham, Ms Wickersham told the BBC that “What we’ve observed is that a group of children and adolescents who developed depression at secondary school had performed quite well when they were in primary school. It is only when they sat their GCSEs that they tended to show a drop in their school performance, which also happened to be around the time that many of them were diagnosed.” She did then add that whilst this wouldn’t affect all teenagers with depression, it does show that many find themselves at a disadvantage for “this pivotal educational milestone”.

She has also suggested to the BBC that we need to pay close attention to all teenagers that show early signs of depression and that we should be “offering them extra educational support in the lead up to their GCSEs, and working with them to develop a plan for completing their compulsory education.”

The study has suggested allowing such candidates to stagger or even delay their exams if necessary. A spokesperson for the Department for Education told the BBC “Testing has always been an important part of education, but it should never be at the expense of a young person’s wellbeing. The government has invested significantly in mental health charities and in support for teachers and young people, including a new £8 million training programme run by experts to tackle the impact of coronavirus on pupils, parents and staff. We trust schools to make sure that pupils get the help and support they need, when they need it, working with parents to do this.”

However, Julie McCulloch who is director of Policy at the Association of School and College leaders, has suggested that funding pressures have reduced the amount of money available for mental health support in schools. She expressed her concerns to the BBC, saying that “We recognise that the government is endeavouring to improve mental health support for young people, but we remain concerned that schools just do not have the funding they need for this and many other tasks.”

Mental health is a growing concern for young people, particularly in the aftermath of COVID19, we are passionate about supporting young people to enable them to achieve their aspirations! If you are a school or community group that would like to work with us, please contact:


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