THIS week we mark Children’s Mental Health Week (4-10 February) – an initiative designed to raise awareness of the need to look after young people’s mental wellbeing.

Such a campaign is certainly needed as the pressures of childhood are often under-appreciated, with education in particular capable of causing anxiety and stress amongst pupils.

We recently conducted some research into the area and revealed the extent of the problem.

We surveyed 1,000 UK parents and a third of those with children at primary school said that exams are making their little ones stressed.

But it’s not just exam periods that are causing such strain, but the general school environment, with two in five parents (40 per cent) of pupils aged between five and 11 feeling that there is too much pressure to perform well.

The figure is particularly concerning when compared to secondary school pupils, whose exam stress levels have been widely reported.

Our research showed that 37 per cent feel stressed about exams, while 46 per cent of their parents feel they are too pressured – only slightly higher than much younger children.

Homework is also a cause for concern, with a quarter (25 per cent) of parents of all ages of school children believing that too much homework is set for them.

In fact, 13 per cent of primary school pupils spend five hours or more on homework a week, compared to 39 per cent of those at secondary school and more than half (55 per cent) of sixth form or college students.

Between the ages of five and 16, children will sit four rounds of compulsory exams, not including the 11+ and Common Entrance exams that those applying for grammar or private schools will take.

Primary school pupils take Key Stage 1 and 2 exams for English, Maths and Science, while some GCSE pupils can sit down to as many as 25 individual tests.

Although school is a place for learning, in primary education it’s just as important to allow children to feel comfortable, so that they can learn more efficiently and effectively.

At five years old, children in the UK start school a year earlier than in most other European countries – two years earlier for those in Northern Ireland. They’ll spend around 10,500 hours of their lives in school before they’re 16 years old.

The classroom itself can be a stressful setting for many, and that can stick with children for a long time. So it’s very important for parents and teachers to recognise when a child is stressed and find alternative ways of helping them cope.

Home schooling can be one of the most effective ways of doing this.

Children’s Mental Health Week is a fantastic concept and hopefully by raising awareness of the problems, steps will be taken to help reduce the amount of stressed children across the country.

Dr Nick Smith
Oxford Home Schooling