Panic attacks. Crying. Nosebleeds. 

That’s how one GCSE student described the scenes unfolding as she entered the hall for her final exam. The phrase “School days are the happiest of your life” seems almost farcical next to this story and looking at the more prevalent news articles concerning students’ declining mental health, seems like the new norm for the education system in our country. 73% of teachers agreed that the new GCSE system worsened students’ mental health and these criticisms came from two main factors: the course having too much content, creating pressure for teachers to “teach the test”, and an approach that was too reliant on memory, not allowing students to develop an enjoyment of the subject. The recently reformed GCSE courses have seen many subjects assessed solely by exams at the end of the course. Using solely an end of course exam makes these tests extremely high stakes and is contributing to poor mental health among students. As young as 13 years of age, students are not prepared to make life-changing decisions however this is something which we are subjecting them to regardless. If these decisions are not taken seriously then our students do not have much of a chance in later life, subjecting them to years of regret and sorrow. We need to take a clear look at what the students of the nation are going through, or we risk destroying their chances in life altogether. Is this what you picture as the best days of your life?

The journey that each child takes through education is different. Students who are spoon-fed knowledge are unlikely to reach their potential in academia or life, however, this is not what the government sees and the national curriculum, therefore, does not take this into account. Teachers are extremely limited in what and how they can teach their students, the education we are receiving based solely on the content of the GCSE exam board and this is not how love for education begins to thrive. Myself, as a GCSE student, sees this in action every day, with much of my education changing into how to answer the question and manipulating the mark scheme. How can we empower students and encourage them to be innovative, curious, and open-minded if we can’t offer them a curriculum that is all of those things?

The point I am trying to make is not to disrespect schools or education at all. I believe school is and always will be a necessary system of education but I believe that after school, life (as a whole) does get better. You don’t need permission to go to the toilet, you don’t have to play football every Monday and you are the master of your destiny, for the most part. School may seem great whilst you’re in it and looking back on it for many people seems like a great trip down memory lane, however, the nostalgia of education is not the same as the monotony of daily life in its fiery depths.

Our society is changing. 50 years ago, the subject of mental health wouldn’t even be considered, let alone talked about in the news. We are beginning to understand the needs of our students and the realising the newly pressured life’s they lead. It is impossible to say what the “happiest days of your life” are, since the perspective on the past is impossibly distorted by the present.