Increasing pupil pressures could cause eating disorders, social withdrawal and more

Forty-four per cent of education staff believe young people self-harm as a result of pressure and stress in their lives, acco

The latest ATL survey asked education staff what they believed were the causes of problems ranging from stress, truancy and eating disorders to drug use, self-harm and suicide attempts in young people.

When it comes to the causes of stress, almost two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents cite testing and exams; almost half (48 per cent) felt pupils suffer because of an overcrowded curriculum; and almost a quarter (22 per cent) think their students are worried about getting into the best school or university. Twenty-one per cent of respondents believe pupils are stressed because of the volume of homework or coursework they are set.

Many believed that the internet had a role to play too, with 51.7 per cent saying pressure to look good on social networks were a factor, and 29.8 per cent believing cyber-bullying was playing a part.

With elements outside of school, just over half (51.1 per cent) said they thought family issues were a cause, and 27.1 per cent said that pressure from family members to achieve academically added to stress levels.

Thirty-one per cent of survey respondents think pupils have developed eating disorders as a result of stress; 21 per cent say students take recreational drugs to alleviate the pressure; and 12 per cent believe pupils have attempted suicide. Thirty-four per cent of education professionals think their students truant as a result of pressure and stress.

Sixty-one per cent of respondents think the pressure on teachers and schools to do well cascades down to their pupils, with one primary teacher from Oxford saying: “Pupils are picking up on teachers’ stress owing to inspections and lack of choice of how and what to teach.”

As a direct result of the pressure and stress pupils face, almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of education staff thought that it results in low self-esteem, 67 per cent said it makes pupils become anxious, 66 per cent said pupils lack motivation, 62 per cent cited an inability to concentrate and almost half (49 per cent) said pupils get excessively upset.

A primary teacher from Lincoln believes that these students are not always getting the help they need: “Lack of council funds have definitely had a detrimental effect on our ability as a school to support our children. The external services simply are not available any more, or are so oversubscribed that it can be half a school year or more before any support is received by the child.”

ATL surveyed 1,250 members who are working in primary and secondary schools, academies and sixth-forms in the UK, in August and September 2015.