Rise in self-harm is linked to over-assessment, union says

Call for review of testing in Scottish schools as impact on mental health is highlighted

Rising rates of self-harm among teenagers have been linked to “unrelenting internal assessment” associated with Scotland’s new qualifications.

Seamus Searson, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association, said he was “extremely concerned as to the potential damage on our young people” caused by assessment as part of the new National qualifications (equivalent to GCSE)

The union is calling on examinations body the SQA and the Scottish government to review assessment requirements.

Mr Searson said: “The causes of self-harm are wide and varied. But equally, we have to accept that school, the curriculum, the at times unrelenting internal assessment of our 15- and 16-year-olds between January and April is a contributing factor to pupil stress and can damage pupil welfare.”

A typical S4 pupil (aged 14-15) could face as many as 24 assessments or assignments, the majority of which would have to be completed in the four-month period between January and April, the union claimed.

Professional judgement

Euan Duncan, SSTA president and an RE teacher in North Ayrshire, said: “The government and the SQA need to review the current assessment requirements and accept that the gathering of naturally occurring pupil classwork and the use of teachers’ professional judgement are sufficient and reduce the pressure on our pupils and the threat of self-harm.”

Scottish teachers are already threatening industrial action over the workload associated with the new qualifications system. Unit assessments and external checks associated with the new National qualifications are placing a huge burden on pupils and teachers, says Scotland’s largest teaching union, the EIS. Education directors have also called for over-assessment to be addressed.

The SSTA is, however, alone in making a link between rising rates of self-harm and the new exam regime in Scotland.

Last year, 563 under-18s were admitted to hospital for self-harm in Scotland, and Childline Scotland reported that counselling sessions with 12- to 15-year-olds on self-harm had increased by 20 per cent in just 12 months.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “We are not aware of any evidence to support a link between any suggested rise in self-harm and exam stress. There is a range of mental wellbeing support available for young people in schools and it is for local authorities and schools to decide on the best approaches.

“All schools should gather evidence about any mental health issues facing young people and take steps to provide the right support.”

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