Amy Dwyer makes the case for introducing a measure of student wellbeing and mental health in league tables.
League tables have undeniably become an entrenched part of our education system, with the rise of ‘teaching to test’ and parental choice caused by greater competition between schools. While league tables were introduced as a way to objectively assess which schools create the best environments for children to be in, a serious flaw in the nature of league tables is that this has never and can never be the case.
To measure the results of GCSEs or A-Levels without taking student wellbeing and satisfaction into consideration, is to prioritise academic excellence at the expense of student mental health. This has been the reality of our education system for decades and is one of the major issues within schools that Labour should be focusing on, ensuring that intense examinations and rigorous curriculums do not result in the mental health of students suffering. We have seen students self-harming and even committing suicide from the stress of exams and yet the Government has proposed nothing to change or counter the stressful environment that schools are becoming.
Parents undoubtedly want the best for their children’s wellbeing and mental health, so why are they not able to ascertain how their child might cope in schools, rather than simply looking at how well they might perform in exams? At present, a school which places undue stress on its students to achieve the top grades, and succeeds, could place very high on league tables, with no recognition of the mental health of students attending said school. At a time of immense importance in the development of young people, schools need to foster creativity and positive mental health habits, as opposed to cramming and stressing over exams and deadlines. Of course, it is important for young people to learn to work to deadlines, but it is clear that the rejection of coursework and focus on exams by successive Conservative governments has placed unnecessary strains on the mental health of pupils.
There is the issue of how mental wellbeing and satisfaction can accurately be measured and I am not proposing one specific way of doing this. However, what I am proposing is that more time and energy needs to go into exploring how we can incorporate student mental health into league tables. This would help illustrate the impact of considerably more rigorous curriculums and examinations, on the mood and wellbeing of pupils. Schools have long reported problems in prioritising student wellbeing in an education system ‘so heavily skewed toward academic outcomes’. Similarly, it would ensure schools that achieve top grades, whilst neglecting the mental health of their pupils, would be penalised in the league tables. This would mark a change in the way that we see mental health and demonstrate the importance that should be placed on this in education, which needs to be introduced alongside other initiatives such as mental health training of teachers so that they are able to adequately support their students.
Such a change would result in schools that are neglecting student mental health to be challenged and supported in shifting their priorities towards wellbeing. While schools that are making strides in the mental health of their pupils and putting in measures to ensure that they are supported, would be recognised for their efforts. Ideally, introducing a measure of student wellbeing and mental health in league tables would support teachers in their push for less focus on examinations and reduce stress on both teachers and pupils.
Amy Dwyer is studying for an MA in Politics and is an ambassador at 50:50 Parliament. She is also Women’s Officer for the North West Young Fabians and Chair of the University of Manchester Young Fabians.