Rescue Our Schools

Sometimes, education ministers say things that make you wonder more about their own experience of education than their understanding of the issues they are responsible for. Damian Hinds, the Secretary of State for Education, has attempted to defend the new GCSE exams by suggesting that managing exam stress is useful learning for later life.  Let’s be charitable: it’s possible – IF your later life is going to include exams – and IF you are the kind of person who is likely to do well enough in exams that you won’t be cowed by the experience. And IF you are the kind of person who has  parents who can support you, teachers who have had enough time and resource to implement the new syllabus, and who aren’t being paid by the results their pupils achieve. And so on.

Over the summer, we heard lots of concerns about the impact of the new GCSEs on pupil wellbeing, and carried out two snapshot surveys about the impact of the new GCSEs (one for parents, one for teachers). Our results corroborated those found by ASCL, the union for school leaders, which carried out it’s own research. We found that the majority (over 75%) of parents and teachers found the new system to be less fair, less accessible to all but the brightest pupils, and caused higher levels of stress than the previous system. Not just ‘normal exam anxiety’ – significant levels of distress leading to many young people needing referral to the (already overstretched) mental health services, and other young people just giving up on the exams altogether.
One of the most telling things Hinds said was that the new exams would prepare pupils for A levels and then university. But at least half of pupils won’t go to university. A very significant proportion of them won’t do A levels as their skills and interests lie in other directions – as several of the parents responding to our survey pointed out.
Of course GCSEs are going to be stressful – they  influence the choices available to them for their next steps. But the idea that pupils will be ‘toughened up’ simply because GCSEs have been made harder and taken us back to the Victorian school room is just nonsense. It rather suggests that our education secretary thinks of year 11 as a kind of educational boot camp, in which he wields the stick. A camp from which some may triumph, but many will emerge muddy, tearful, and injured. All of which sounds a rather ineffective means of nurturing the next generation of citizens – let alone pleasing their voting parents.
To say that Damian Hinds’s response to the widespread concern about pupil wellbeing this summer is inadequate is a gross understatement. He appears not to have read the research available to him, but also to have no interest in doing so. Which is why we, alongside educational and mental health experts,  have called for an urgent inquiry into the impact of the new GCSEs on mental wellbeing.  Once that’s underway, he should then read all the research and recommendations that are gathering dust in the DfE offices questionning the very purpose of GCSEs in the current education system.
We know that many of you agree with us, so we need you to sign our petition. It is going straight to Damian Hinds and we think he should listen. Please sign and share it with your friends and familiy

RoS co-founder was invited onto LBC radio last tuesday to speak about Michael Gove’s policy to increase the content of the GCSE syllabus. Listen here


We would love to hear your views and your stories if you have children taking these exams this year. How are they coping? What do you think about what they have to learn?

We’re hearing from more and more parents who want to take their children out of SATs – but they have been told by headteachers they can’t. This is simply not true. The most extreme case – featured in the Independent – is the school where parents were told their children had to sit Sats even if they had a minor illness.

Heads and parents need to know their rights. Headteachers have a statutory duty to make sure their pupils take Sats ‘where eligible’. Those last two words are crucial. They also have a duty of care to their students. They ignore this at their peril. An investigation over safeguarding could be far more serious than a dip in results.

As for parents, it is possible to withdraw your child from Sats in Year 6 by taking them out for just four half days when the tests are underway. We know of no case of anyone being fined for sats withdrawal, and you are likely to have to take them out for five whole days to trigger a fine of £60. You can check out the situation in your area by researching your local authority’s code of conduct for unauthorised absence (which should be on your council’s website).

With Year 2 Sats and the phonics check in Year 1, it is much harder to take your children out without the consent of the headteacher. This is because Key Stage 1 Sats can be sat at any time during May – so you would have to take your child out for awhile month to be sure they didn’t sit them. With phonics, a child can be given the test at any time over a fortnight in June.

Let’s keep up the campaign to end these pointless and damaging tests for good. For more legal advice and other ways in which you can protest please check out more than a score’s action toolkit at

“Government should join the dots between education policy, the retention and recruitment crisis in our schools, and the rise in emotional and mental problems in young people of all ages.”

Thank you to everyone who sent in their comments on the mental health green paper.

RoS’ Emma Bishton has written our response which you can read in full here.