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Monday, October 12, 1998 Published at 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK


Stress testing schoolchildren

Happiest days of their lives?

Researchers at the Institute of Education are to undertake what is thought to be the first nationwide study of stress in schoolchildren.

The move follows a preliminary survey commissioned by the BBC, which reveals alarming levels of stress in seven-year-olds who took national tests this year.

Teachers reported pupils in tears, feeling sick and tired, and refusing to work. Other symptoms included stuttering, tantrums, sulks and psychosomatic illness.

Six out of 10 said that there was no doubt that stress was generated by the Key Stage One standard assessment tests (SATs). One in five of those believed that stress levels were "very high".

The children most likely to suffer the highest stress were those who were not tested by their normal classroom teacher.


One parent, Tracey Jervis, told BBC Two's Just One Chance programme that her seven-year-old daughter, Chloe, would be awake at night, sweating, crying, shouting.

"It wasn't just a normal childhood nightmare. It was a nightmare over school," her mother said.

"She would shout out: 'Mum, my work's no good' and it was obvious it was the stress of all the work that she was being put on to get the SATs results that they wanted.

"I went in to take her in one day and you could see she didn't want to go to school, couldn't go to school."

Parental pressure

All of the teachers who reported highly stressed pupils said the children were also under pressure from their parents.

A senior educational psychologist at the Institute of Education, Alan Jensen - one of whose specialities is stress and stress management - described the findings as "alarming".

"I thought there would be a few tears and a tiny proportion of other symptoms," he said, "but here we had children not wanting to come to school.

"My gut reaction is: What are we doing for these youngsters at six and seven years old? What is it all about and how can we prepare children better?"

The institute now plans to conduct a study of stress levels in older children too. Among other things it will be interviewing parents at length about the extent to which they put pressure on their children.

The intitial survey involved sending forms to 57 schools across inner city, metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas.

  • There will be more on this in Just One Chance at 7.30pm on BBC Two on Tuesday, October 13.

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