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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Pupils tested to the limit
child sitting exam
Tried and tested through primary and secondary school
As the exam season gets into full swing, pressure is being felt in homes and schools across the country.

Many teachers and parents are reporting that the stress is becoming unbearable - for them as well as for the children sitting the tests.

Some parents say their children are studying for 70 hours a week.

And teachers say pupils are sacrificing their leisure time and voluntary work to knuckle down to their revision.


We are doing too much testing and it is stopping us from doing the teaching.

Sue Kirkham, head teacher
Children could be tested in formal examinations of various kinds at the ages of seven, 11, 14, 16, 17 and 18 - depending on where they are in the UK.

Sue Kirkham, the head teacher of Walton High School in Stafford, says the culture of testing has gone too far.

Speaking on The Learning Curve on BBC Radio Four, she said: "I think we are getting the balance wrong.

"We are doing too much testing and it is stopping us from doing the teaching."

She said that not only were teachers and pupils feeling the stress of exams, but there was a knock-on effect for other children not involved in exams.

exam hall
Exam time: Testing time all round?
"It means that your gym, your sports hall, your drama studio, your assembly hall, are completely out of use for the rest of the curriculum.

"So that younger students are not able to follow the normal timetable at this time because everybody is so caught up in this testing business," she said.

The parents' view

Many parents interviewed for The Learning Curve complained about their children's heavy workload.

"My daughter is taking A-levels - theatre studies, philosophy and psychology," said one.

"In the run up to the exams she is working an astonishing number of hours - 80 hours a week at least."

"My son is doing A-levels in history, English and politics," said another.

"I am not quite sure how many hours a week he works - he spends a lot of time in his room but what exactly he is doing there, I can't tell you."

For head teacher Sue Kirkham, one of the major drawbacks of work pressure is the loss of pupils' free time.

She said: "We are finding with our sixth-formers, with the new curriculum being so full, having so many exams, so much course work - a number of our sixth-formers are actually unfortunately giving up the voluntary work, the extra-curricular activities that they used to do and that saddens us enormously."

Teachers' exam pressure

While some teachers might find their workload is reduced during exam time because they are invigilating rather than teaching, they say they too suffer from exam fever.

One said: "The children get stressed by the fact that they get a lot of pressure from staff who are very, very results-conscious and are working hard to get every student through, when they are being very much pushed hard from behind - especially the ones on the borderlines between the crucial grades."

Another described her experience: "One of the big differences, certainly in the time I have been teaching, is that more students want to get exam results and need to get exam results to go on to do the thing that they want.

"Schools are very concerned about getting good results, particularly now because there are rewards going along with that. So to that extent there is more pressure on."

  • The Learning Curve is broadcast at 1630 on Tuesdays, repeated at 2300 on Sundays.
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    See also:

    23 May 01 | Education
    Parents add to exam stress
    06 Jan 00 | Education
    Teenagers to sit more tests
    20 Sep 00 | Education
    Primary school test results improve
    24 May 01 | Education
    Parents bribe children over exams
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