Together, we can mitigate our children’s exam anxieties
This #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek, Headteacher of Norfolk House School, Paul Jowett, offers his advice on supporting children with the anxieties and pressures of the exam period.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and even though the last year has sharpened our focus on this important issue, it has been a key priority at Norfolk House for many years.
Ambition and Resilience are two of our school’s Core Values, and keeping these in balance is particularly important for the mental health of our older children who are preparing for the 11+ entrance exams. The 11+ preparation process has many positive outcomes for the children’s academic and personal growth, such as: the challenge of engaging with concepts from the Key Stage 3 curriculum; building confidence in interviews; developing their growth mindset; and developing their ability to set targets and self-assess.
Nonetheless, there are also some significant challenges. North London is unlike many other places in the UK in terms of schooling. The concentration of outstanding selective secondary schools is particularly high; for example, the 25 current Form 6 children received offers from 21 different selective schools. The competition for places is also incredibly high, with the place to applicant ratio often being less than 1:10. This drives the ambition amongst the parents, children and staff for all children to fulfil their potential and have the best chance at gaining entry to one of these schools.
Naturally, statistics like the place to applicant ratio also creates anxiety and often increases pressure on children preparing for the 11+. Unfortunately, each year during the build up to the exams we see many of the children’s mental health deteriorate. There is no panacea for removing the stress of the 11+ process. However, there are some important steps we can take to support the mental health of our children as they navigate this important transition.
The close home-school partnership is crucial in choosing the “right” fit of school for your child. The staff team has a huge amount of academic data on your child, knows the type of educational environment where they learn best, understands what makes them happy in a social context and has a keen knowledge of the senior schools and past pupils who have joined them. So working with the school to narrow down the list of potential senior schools is important in managing the pressure on your child.
We often see changes in the children’s energy levels, eating, behaviour and mood; so sharing what you notice at home will help the school respond by reducing their workload and offering extra pastoral support and reassurance. Look out for changes in your child’s sleep patterns, eating habits and emotional responses. Sharing this with the school will help us coordinate the right support.
Every year the take-up for after school clubs reduces significantly during this time. Research shows that physical activity is the best way to reduce stress, so avoid the temptation to replace the time your child would normally be playing outside or taking part in sport, with extra revision.
Finally, find some quiet time every day for your child to have the opportunity to talk with you and share how they are feeling.
Remember, we are in this with you and are here to support you too! Together we can.
For more on mental health, check out this article from Bellevue Education Director, Gregg Davies.