A rising number of students and parents have been experiencing anxiety and stress because of A-level results day, prompting higher education leaders to urge for more focus on mental health.
Last year, calls and social media posts to UCAS made by concerned students and parents increased by 15% on results day. The figures rose from almost 17,000 in 2016, to nearly 20,000 in 2017.
Childline, a free counselling call service provided by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said that there has been a “surge” in calls this August regarding worries over exam results.
Teachers attributed the growing anxiety to the reformed A-levels, which have become more exam-oriented, thus imposing “higher-stakes”. This year, the number of students passing A-levels has reached an all time low.
The National Education Union surveyed secondary school teachers in early August, and found that 66% of respondents believed that the changes made to A-levels made students more stressed.
Alison Roy from the Association of Child Psychotherapists said: “Exam stress can be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I am seeing more and more young people suffering from low self-esteem and a lack of a sense of their own abilities.
“I think that the fear of rejection and of not being accepted is therefore much higher for young people these days,” she said, since pressures to succeed have become more “prevalent”, due to social media and the education system.
I think that the fear of rejection and of not being accepted is much higher for young people these days
– Alison Roy, Association of Child Psychotherapists
UCAS Chief Executive Clare Marchant told The Independent that universities have a “responsibility” to assuage anxious students and provide “realistic expectations”, given “high tuition fees, uncapped student numbers and mental health concerns”.
She added that the higher education sector and UCAS can “absolutely” do more to tackle mental health problems among young people, be it pairing students of similar backgrounds, or holding open days during weekdays.
Geoff Barton, general secretary for the Association of School and College Leaders, agreed: “The sense of continuity you would want of pastoral care – of being there to help a child adjust to becoming a young adult in a very different environment – has been too inconsistent.
“We think universities must pay more attention to the mental wellbeing and socialisation of young people, making sure that support is there. I suspect there is more that can be done there.”
He also stated that anxiety levels “feel to be greater than they were in the past”, possibly due to changes in the exams.
Regarding the number of anxious students, John de Pury, mental health policy lead at Universities UK, said: “Mental health is a priority for universities. There is already a wide range of support services available and many universities encourage student-led support groups.
“As students are becoming young adults, taking on the challenges of independent living and moving between their homes and university, they may experience difficulties.”
He added that universities have a “duty of care” to students, and partnerships with “students, staff, government, schools, colleges, the health services and voluntary organisations” are vital to combatting the exacerbating mental health crisis.