Next week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a cause that has an important impact on the education sector: on the one hand, an increasing number of young people are suffering from mental illness, making good mental health education a vital issue, on the other, the teaching profession has a higher than average prevalence of workers suffering from mental health issues, meaning that there is something about teaching that needs to be changed considerably.
We’re well aware of many of the causes: overworked and underpaid in often understaffed schools, teaching is famously rewarding but comes at cost for those who employed in the profession. It would be difficult to overstate how stressful it can be at times, for example, with teaching being within the top three most stressful occupations in the UK according to a recent poll. Part of this stress undeniably comes from the desire to ensure that all students succeed, and yet far of it comes from above, from bad educational policy, cuts to funding, and staff shortages exacerbated by both of these factors.
The recent decision among parents of primary school students to remove their children from SATs exams shows that this stress also applies to those just starting out in the school system, with children as young as 10 apparently losing sleep over stress caused by the examinations. For many students the stress doesn’t stop at SATs alone, it continues well into their time at secondary school, especially during their GCSEs. All this on top of the expected changes in mental well being often brought on by puberty.
Of course, schools should be a place of assessment, and performance has to be measured in some way, but as society becomes more aware of the importance of addressing mental health issues, perhaps it is time to consider the other functions that schools have in our society, and the types of environment that are most conducive for success for both teacher and pupil.