The BBC has reported a significant rise in mental health issues for Britain’s school children. The problem has reached such endemic proportions that heads of schools are urging the government to improve CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and the response from government has been to increase funding by £1.4 billion. This is a ludicrous and short sighted response.
It is obvious that the education system, with it’s systemic focus on improving academic results, is causing stress, anxiety, self harm and depression in our children. From government, through Ofsted, we are subjecting our children to a system in which they have no freedom find their own levels or manage their own stress. They cannot choose to pass or to fail exams. Failure has become such an anathema to the Ofsted regime that our children are now effectively forced to do well and this causes mental exhaustion and issues of self-loathing and low self-worth. This lack of power and freedom is a modern form of slavery. Everyone involved in education knows this pressure to perform well and it is mostly our children who are being sacrificed on the altar of academic success.
There needs to be a change in the philosophy of education. Children need to be seen as uniquely gifted. They are not all equally talented and so can’t expect to get the same results. Education should be seen as the means by which our children develop and discern their gifts. GCSEs should be understood as a broad spectrum education, which gives each child a chance to try everything. This wide range of subjects allows them to discover what they are good at and what they enjoy. A clutch of exam results from A to D at GCSE is necessary to give each child an indication of where they should specialise at A level. Insisting that every child has the potential to get a string of As and A* is what does the mental and emotional damage.
Education should also focus on character, resilience and the moral framework. Our children cannot grow up and take responsibility for themselves if they are forced to get grades in subjects for which they have no real desire to do well, because they have less talent for or interest in that academic area than others.
We must give our children space to choose. They must be allowed to pass or fail. They must not be told that failure is bad. Failure is the way we learn to avoid it in the future. Self-worth and life beyond school does not depend on how well a child does at her German GCSE.
We must let our kids find their talents and use them for the good of others, perhaps even for the glory of the God who made them, with their unique set of gifts and abilities. Then we won’t need to spend a fortune we don’t have fixing mental health problems which should not exist in the first place.