Examining an emotional issue

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SHOULD we be as concerned about young people’s emotional intelligence as much as we seem to be about aiming for the stars on educational examinations?

As the team making up the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service in Jersey, we welcome the opportunity to contribute more broadly to the debate about educational examinations as invited in your recent article on Cambridge University’s decision to raise the thresholds for entry.

We are accustomed to meeting young people who experienced high levels of stress as a result of the ever increasing examination culture in Jersey.

We do recognise however that the majority of those young people who are engaged in the education process are resilient and cope with the pressure. We are aware from our clinical work that there is a curious trend towards ever younger children, some as young as 12 years of age, describing their anxieties about embarking on GCSEs and further education.

We have witnessed young people describing their anxiety about having to demonstrate their academic ability in years 8 and 9, before being able to undertake studies in examinations that we thought were designed for year 11 students.

One of our team recently had a year 8 girl in a consultation who sat playing with toys while describing how she had to make choices about starting GCSEs in year 9. The clinician was struck by a discrepancy between the young person’s emotional intelligence and her description about GCSE coursework.

Without being certain of causation, we are also aware that in the referrals to our service, self-harm and emergency calls for young people attempting to take their lives increases during examination results time.

Our professional training in child development, particularly in areas of cognitive development, leave us somewhat perplexed at the rationale for coaching young people in tests at a premature age.

We are also aware from our clinical work that the young people may not have the emotional maturity even if the examinations have been simplified to accommodate their cognitive development. We know that as many as 20% of young people in the Island experience some degree of mental health problem.

We are aware that the debate is extremely complex and highly emotive, but do hope that students, parents, teachers, policy makers and politicians will give some thought to the development of the whole person, not forget normal development and consider the psychological impact on those who feel overwhelmed and alienated by the educational process.

Royde House,

21 Midvale Road.

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