In September 2019, four- and five-year-old children in nearly 10,000 primary schools (about half the primary schools in England) will participate in a pilot scheme for the new reception baseline assessment (RBA). The assessment is intended to be a ’20-minute check of language and ability to count’ that will give an indication of a child’s development when they first start school. The results will be utilised to measure a child’s progress over the years (leading up to KS2 tests when they are 11).
However the announcement of the controversial test provoked strong reactions, with a group of parents petitioning the High Court for a judicial review of the process. Parents and experts have expressed concerns that the tests will place undue pressure on young children, causing distress in the short-term; and that there will be long-term impacts on their education ‘because of schools potentially using the feedback from the assessment to label or stream children at such a young age.’
Though last week the judge ruled against a hearing to examine the government’s decision to proceed with the reception baseline assessment, Lisa Richardson, one of the solicitors representing the families, commented that ‘the case has shone a light on important issues in relation to the reception baseline assessment of children and allowed these to be examined. We hope the government will ensure it takes into account our clients’ concerns about the welfare of the young children at the heart of this process in the future development of the scheme.’
Whatever the outcome of these new tests, experts are now asking the question: should we be testing children at an early age – and how much pressure is too much pressure (in any arena – from exams to extracurricular activities)? Whilst setting goals and getting used to taking exams can be healthy, feeling burdened by high expectations can be harmful for children.
Harmful Effects of Pressure
Studies have shown that children
who feel pressured can experience a range of symptoms, including (but not
Sleep issues (leading to deprivation, which can affect their performance at
school in the long run).
Higher rates of mental illness (such as anxiety).
Increased risk of injury (particularly if a child is a budding athlete and
feels compelled to continue participating despite an injury or illness).
In some circumstances, an increased likelihood of cheating.
It’s also worth remembering that piling the pressure on can lead to a student not wishing to participate at all – if the goal is only to be ‘number one’, it can take the pleasure out of the activity, leading to a sense of indifference. This is unfortunate, as it means that the student in question will not benefit from the long-term effects of that activity (playing in an orchestra despite not getting the solo, for example, will still enhance their skills – but if they give up because they aren’t picked out from the crowd, ultimately they will miss out on improving their ability to play their chosen instrument).
How to Encourage Children to Succeed in a Positive Way
Many of us are perfectionists – and that’s no bad thing.
However, in order to ensure that children feel encouraged (rather than
pressured), sometimes we have to let go of that perfectionism. The opportunity
to fail, to try again and learn from previous failures, is arguably as
important as meeting every challenge.
Here are some tips for setting you – and your child – up for
success in the scholastic arena and beyond.
Accentuate the positive. Focus on the positive – however your child has done. Whether they’ve struggled with a test or played on the winning side in a football game, help them identify areas where they’ve excelled (and also where they could look to improve in future).
Let your child make mistakes. Don’t get angry if your child makes mistakes, even if you are concerned that these are ‘silly’ or have occurred due to a lack of effort. Remember that this is all part of the process – and discuss any perceived failures honestly and openly, so that your child knows it’s okay to fail, and that trying hard is what matters (as well as learning from each experience).
Focus on the effort, rather than the outcome. Don’t only praise when your child is successful: instead, think about the effort that has gone into every action. If you know that your son or daughter has worked hard, compliment them on that rather than the high marks they achieved in the test. If you can teach your child that working hard and trying their best is the most important part of the experience, they will be more likely to succeed later in life – because their focus will be on the process as a whole rather than the final result.
Don’t compare. It’s easy for both children and parents to put undue pressure on themselves by comparing their own progress to their peers – particularly now that social media is part of our day-to-day lives. Don’t. Stay off social media and remind each other that every parent – and every child – is different.
Check in with each other – and cut yourselves some slack. Being there to support your child in their hobbies and cheering them on is wonderful for their confidence, but take care that this doesn’t cross the line – in case you’re actually pressuring your child to continue with something they don’t want to do. Keep checking in and making sure that your child still loves doing all the activities they used to enjoy, and cut yourselves some slack if it all gets too much: there’s no harm in doing less but doing it right. More is not always better.
At Mentor Education we focus not only on academic excellence, but also overall wellbeing. If your child would like some support – in any area – please don’t hesitate to contact us. Our experienced tutors are on hand to guide your child through their school careers, ensuring that they feel confident, passionate about their studies, and fully-equipped to do their best.