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Exams are far from the only stress for the pupils of 2022

Published: Mar 14, 2022 6 min read


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During this time of continuing Covid-related challenges in schools and at home, alongside levelling up and education catch up strategies, there has never been a more critical moment to encourage pupil voice and hear from the young people who are wondering about their short and long term futures. Exams will be taking place this summer – and in some cases, these could be students’ first traditional exams for two years. But for our young people, exams are far from the only stress.

Mental health has never been higher in the public agenda – for adults and children. This is a positive development, but there remains a crucial need to fully understand the causes (and solutions) to improve mental wellbeing for all children, wherever they live and irrespective of their background, culture or class.

The scale of the challenge cannot be underestimated. More young people than ever before are accessing support for their mental health, and early interventions can make a critical difference to their future, beyond school. But many young people experience barriers to recognising or addressing issues, and many that have recognised a problem are facing a long wait for targeted support. This could lead to a disillusioned generation – and a potential time bomb of mental health related issues.

Several reports have alarmingly suggested that potentially up to 75% of children and young people who experience mental health problems aren’t getting the necessary help and assistance they need. With all the pressures at school, the emotional wellbeing of young people is just as important as their physical health. Sustained mental health support helps develop increasing resilience to cope with whatever life throws at them - and should help them through to adulthood.

Being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet (at school and at home) and getting regular exercise along with the wider liberating freedom to play indoors and outdoors can help keep children and young people mentally sound. Factors including feeling loved, trusted, understood and safe are of course vital too. Children who are optimistic and more resilient, have some control over their lives and feel like they belong are more likely to have good mental wellbeing and confidence. Most children grow up mentally healthy, but surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago.

Youth Employment UK, an independent, not for profit social enterprise founded in 2012 to tackle youth unemployment, released the Youth Voice Census Report 2021 which was sponsored by Amazing Apprenticeships, The Edge Foundation and Pearson. It found that young people’s mental health is suffering and they feel increasingly disconnected from support.

Youth Employment UK are ideally placed to understand the complex landscape facing young people, employers and policy makers. The 2021 Census captured data from 14-24 year olds across the UK. Over 3,400 young people shared their views on a range of issues, including mental health concerns. The findings were stark;

  • Young people named anxiety, depression and mental health concerns in their top 5 responses when asked about barriers stopping them progressing
  • The level of disruption for young people has been high. 66% of those in education, and 40% in employment, said their learning or work had been disrupted by Covid ‘A Lot’ or ‘A Great Deal’
  • Those looking for work were hardest hit with 56% saying Covid had impacted their mental health ‘A Lot’ or ‘A Great Deal’. 42% reported that their motivation to apply for opportunities had been similarly impacted

The report also captured feedback on the catching up agenda. It said “Whilst young people have remained adaptable, they have missed out on key moments that help them establish who they are, where they are, what skills they have and what their next steps should be.”

Another standout finding to me was that only 42.7% of young people in secondary school and 43% of those in college had access to a careers advisor. This is very concerning for their future direction and motivation, particularly to address shortfalls in key skill areas including STEM. This could also mean that those pupils may well be missing out on access to employers and role models from industry, like STEM Ambassadors. 

When it came to further education, the report also highlighted that “access to careers support has plummeted in university this year, with half of students not accessing any support.” Further data suggested that just 9% of young people were confident they will be able to find quality work where they live, and only 25% of your people believed employers are supportive of hiring young people. 81% didn’t think there were enough opportunities to share their views on important issues in their area, while 27% did not have a quiet place to do their school work. Equally concerning is that 67% share their device with more than one other person in their household.

Careers guidance aims to help young people at school shift from the general understanding of life and work to a more specific understanding of the realistic and practical career options available to them. Without this guidance, inspiration and motivation, and engagement with role models and employers in a meaningful and impactful way, we are unlikely to fill skills shortages and fuel the growth of UK plc. Guiding pupils to pick subjects and pathways that interest them is essential to give them the best possible chance to understand what they will need to succeed in a rapidly changing and sometimes scary world. The honest responses from young people in this census should never be taken for granted. As a Governor and Trustee at several schools, I know that pupil voice is crucial to changing the status quo.

There are many organisations, including the NHS, that undertake important work in supporting young people and their mental wellbeing. Young Minds provide young people with reassurance and advice to help them make positive choices for their mental health, with guidance on what to do next if they are struggling. Whenever a young person opens up about their mental health to an adult and role model they trust, this can make a real difference to their journey to adulthood. Support like this is crucial to helping young people enter society with much less fear and trepidation and of course, much less anxiety and stress.