ChildLine reveals rise in exam stress counselling sessions

Children and young people have received thousands of counselling sessions to cope with exam stress, figures from ChildLine reveal.

The charity, created by Esther Rantzen in 1986, said today that it had conducted 3,077 counselling session in 2015/16 – a rise of 9 per cent on the previous year.

ChildLine, run by the NSPCC, said about a quarter of meetings took place in August when teenagers were waiting for their GCSE and A-level results.

Last year, the charity said there was a rise of 200 per cent in the number of times young people contacted it about exam stress rose. More than 120,000 young people contacted the service with concerns about school.

One 15-year-old boy told counsellors: “All I can think about is exams and I can’t deal with it any more.”

And a 17-year-old girl admitted: “I feel so overwhelmed at the moment so it’s impossible to concentrate on revising. I’m worried that I won’t get the grade I am predicted now.”

The report comes amid continued concern about children’s mental health, but some do not believe there is a problem.

Last week, the Department for Education axed its mental health tsar, Natasha Devon. The government said the decision was because an NHS report recommended a cross-governmental mental health champion, not because of Devon’s outspoken criticism of government policy.

In December, child and adolescent mental health expert Professor Tanya Byron told professionals at the SSAT conference there had been a 75 per cent rise in the number of presentations for self-harm over the last five years.

Schools Week has previously reported how there is no up to date data on the prevalence of mental health disorders in children and young people. The last collection was in 2004 and was previously undertaken on a five-yearly basis.

In 2004, one in 10 children had a mental health problem, with most having emotional and/or conduct disorders. The figures were broadly similar in 1999.

A new survey of young people’s mental health was announced in October and is due to report in 2017.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: “We need to take a serious look at the rigid way in which government policy dictates how we should educate children. If not, we are ensuring that children and young people will continue to bear unnecessary mental strains and stresses.”

This morning, writing for, Claire Fox, director of the Institute of Ideas, said young children who claimed they were “stressed” had “imbibed adults’ counselling jargon” to “internalise the lesson that they are emotionally fragile. This can too easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By the time they leave school, we’ve denied teenagers the tools and robustness they need to cope with the vicissitudes of life”.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “”As these figures reveal, the pressure to do well is being felt by an increasing number of young people across the country. We hear from lots of young people each year who are anxious, worried or panicking about their exams and revision.”

A Department for Education spokesperson: “We are promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools so children can thrive both inside and out the classroom. We have also reformed the system so young people are only entered for tests when they are truly ready.”

The helpline has launched a new video for children and young people giving tips and advice on coping with exams, such as taking regular breaks from revision and getting a good night’s sleep.

ChildLine can be called, free, on 0800 11 11.

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  1. As a mindfulness and resilience coach for kids I know first hand how much stress exams cause. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a link between exam stress and physical illnesses that appear to happen prior to exams and it would be interesting to see some data on this. Seems weird to me that stress amongst adults is widely acknowledged as detrimental in the workplace, yet it’s fine to place children under this kind of pressure at such vulnerable times in their lives.