School staff raise concern over rising levels of pupil anxiety

By Joe Lepper

| 28 September 2015

Cuts to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) have been condemned by teachers' leaders amid concerns over rising levels of stress and anxiety among pupils.

Pressure to succeed at school is increasing pupil stress levels, teachers claim. Image: Shutterstock

A survey of 1,250 school staff by the union Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), found that 12 per cent said stress levels are so great that pupils have attempted suicide, 44 per cent said anxiety was contributing to increased incidents of self-harm and a third thought eating disorders to be on the rise as a result of stress.

ATL general secretary Mary Bousted said: “It is shocking that so many young people are under so much stress that they self-harm. It is also alarming that much of the pressure and stress is caused by the education system and this needs to be a wake-up call to policy makers.
“Teachers do their best to support and protect children and young people from the pressures of schools which are becoming unhealthily competitive, but with brutal cuts to CAMHS support is no longer available to children and young people coping with mental health issues.”

In July, the children’s mental health charity YoungMinds revealed that more than £35m was cut from CAMHS last year.

Of those surveyed by the ATL, a fifth said pupils are turning to recreational drugs to alleviate school pressure, with almost two thirds (65 per cent) of school staff blaming testing and exams on heightened stress levels. Just under half felt that “an over-crowded curriculum” was to blame, with one in five also citing high levels of homework.

A third of respondents said education pressure and stress is a factor in students truanting from school.

Around two thirds of those surveyed believe that pupils are under more pressure now than they were two years ago. A similar proportion believe the situation is worse than it was five and 10 years ago.

One in six respondents also think that pressure placed on teachers and schools is being felt by pupils.

One primary school teacher who responded said: “Primarily the curriculum is to blame as too much pressure is put upon young children. They need more 'down time' and need to be less intense and there needs to be more emphasis on fun and creative lessons.”
Another primary school teacher said: “Pupils are picking up on teachers' stress owing to inspections and lack of choice of how and what to teach.”

The government has pledged £1.25bn to improve mental health support for children young people over the next five years, including £150m to address self harm and eating disorders and £54m to boost access to therapeutic support. Last week former care minister Paul Burstow urged the government to prioritise support for those with depression and anxiety, conduct disorders and those at risk of self-harm and suicide.

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