Two-thirds of girls and young women say there is too much pressure on exams at school. Girlguiding asked females aged between 11 and 21 about their thoughts on the pressure they feel and the support that they get. A huge 64% said that there was too much pressure and focus on doing well in exams. The results also showed that 52% found exam stresses affected their happiness, with four-fifths saying their schools did not get the help they needed to cope with the pressure.
Where Does GCSE Pressure Come From?
In this competitive age, schools want to be able to shout about their great results. This has led to many Year 11 girls feeling like there is an expectation on them to deliver the results that will help their school market itself to prospective pupils.
Others have spoken about the suggestions that schools are pressuring them to post about their results on social media in order to market in that way. At a socially conscious age, there are enough pressures relating to social media for girls to deal with without worrying about how they come across academically on their profiles too.
There are also family expectations to deal with for some Year 11s, as well as wanting to keep up with their peers too. This GCSE pressure can be overwhelming.
How to Help Girls With GCSE Pressure
● Concentrate on the transferable skills
There are so many skills that pupils can learn during their GCSE study that will set them up for life. We need to stop thinking of the GCSE process as only being about the end result. Some pupils do better in exams than others. But even children who do not get the grades they want can still gain the transferable skills to succeed in the workplace.
Work ethic, applying yourself in different situations, research abilities. These are all great skills that the next generation of workers need. But they are not the skills on which they get graded.
Rather than pressuring Year 11 girls to concentrate on that score at the end, encourage them to engage in the journey and to develop these key skills for life
● Change the discourse
We still live in a world where many academics tell girls that their GCSEs are the be-all and end-all. But this is simply not true. Of course, getting great GCSE results can be a real help in the job market, but we know that there are many other ways to find employment nowadays.
Rather than selling the exams at the end of Year 11 as a matter of life and death in terms of the success of the rest of their lives, give girls a reason to succeed for themselves. Thinking about ‘failing’ GCSEs as meaning that is the end of their aspirations is demoralising and puts too much emphasis on these exams. It can cause pupils to crumble under the pressure.
A better way to discuss upcoming exams is as a way to honour their own hard work. By preparing properly and working hard, they are paying themselves the ultimate respect. Turn it into a positive and make them feel proud to achieve the grades that they deserve.
● Lay out their options
Much GCSE pressure comes from the narrative that they are the only route to the pupil’s dream job. But there are many different ways to find the perfect job after school.
There are apprenticeships, internships and an array of great jobs that don’t require education beyond the age of 16. Working up from the starting position in a company is another way to succeed on the job ladder. Once candidates have experience of the way the business works and get to know the right people, this can lead to a dream job, no matter what their exam results.
● Talk about the routes to starting a business
Starting your own business requires knowledge, but that doesn’t mean it needs great academic qualifications. There are a lot of people who didn’t do well in school yet are successful in business. Some succeed in both areas, some succeed at school and not in business.
Of course, many lessons that pupils learn in the course of their GCSE journey are very helpful when starting a business, but that doesn’t mean the future entrepreneur necessarily needs the best qualifications.
We should encourage pupils to listen, engage and learn as much as possible, but to understand that if for some reason, they just can’t express that in an exam situation it is not a disaster. Their attitude towards learning is more important than their ability to perform under exam pressure.
If pupils don’t give it their all, they don’t understand the skills they have and their abilities to adapt to situations. However, we still have a laser focus on the grade they receive at the end of the course. This is important, of course, but simply concentrating on that very small element of a two-year journey can be extremely stressful for pupils who already have so many social pressures swirling around them.
We need to make the two years before results day as fruitful for our pupils as possible. We need to encourage them to apply themselves, reach their full potential, and realise what they are capable of. These are the experiences that will help them decide their true route later on. The GCSE pressure distracts from the learning and growing that pupils need to engage with during their last years at school.
We run empowering programmes in schools for young women who are looking to make the step into the working world. These sessions set them up for the workplace or to help them start their own businesses. If you would like to find out what we could do for you, contact us today and let’s chat about how to inspire female students in your school.