'˜School stress affecting mental health of teens' says head teacher

Colin Parker is keen to stress to his teaching staff that some things are more important than school league tables.

Saturday, 1st April 2017, 9:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 9th May 2017, 8:31 pm
Egerton Rothesay School tries to make things less stressful for its students

In fact, the head teacher of Egerton Rothesay School thinks there are a lot of important discussions to be had about education, and the direction it’s heading in – not least, its impact on students.

Colin’s school caters for students who have complex needs, ranging from dyslexia to anxiety problems and being on the autistic spectrum.

On a visit to the school, he tells the Gazette: “I strongly believe that the stress put on schools to achieve well, and pupils being pushed to do well, has adversely affected the mental health of many teenagers.

Colin Parker, head teacher of Egerton Rothesay School in Berkhamsted

“They’re hearing from all angles that they must do well in their exams or they won’t achieve in life. It’s untrue.

“So many people have done very well without having good GCSE results. It’s about encouraging the children to look towards the future and have a vision about what they can contribute towards society, and to encourage them to do what they’re good at.”

The Gazette is visiting as government statistics show that progress at the school is ‘well below average’. It’s a claim Colin firmly refutes.

And a closer look reveals statistics can be misleading. 54 per cent of its Year 11 pupils who took a GCSE exam achieved A* to C grades.

Colin Parker, head teacher of Egerton Rothesay School in Berkhamsted

But that number rises to 75 per cent if grade D for English is included.

Colin says: “Previously, the speaking and listening element was included in the GCSE English final grade.

“Most of our pupils do very well in speaking and listening, but now it doesn’t count towards the final grade.

“Our pupils find comparing and contrasting extremely difficult, so getting that grade C with exams is a tall order.

“It had a massive impact on our results. A lot of changes brought in by the government, such as grade changes and getting rid of coursework, have all been to the detriment of special needs students.”

So how much attention is paid to the tables by Colin, and do they accurately reflect progress if it has been made?

“These league tables shouldn’t apply to schools like ours, not at all,” he says.

“They have no relevance to a school like ours. We see progress educationally and socially in a far more pronounced way than exams can ever show.

“When they start school a lot don’t trust education, they don’t think they can learn and they won’t believe that their difficulties will be accepted – their view is totally changed by the time they leave. That is not measured in any table.”

Nevertheless, while accepting of limitations his students have, Mr Parker encourages them to aim high.

He said: “Our aim is to integrate them into society, but a lot come out of our school with very creditable results.

“One boy is starting art at the Royal Academy, we’ve got dentists and physiotherapists.

“They can go to University, and if they can get an A* they can get it here as they would at any mainstream school.”