3 ways the UK education system is failing young people


There’s too much at stake to continue ignoring the many ways the UK education system is failing young people. Here are 3 ways highlighting the issues:

Success is based on ‘performance’ and not ‘learning’

Have a quick glimpse at how we view schools in the UK and you’ll see top 100, 50, and so on rankings. There are hundreds of websites dedicated to ranking just how good a school is, from state to public, academy to boarding schools. And the only metric they use are grades based on academic results and performance. This is flawed.

Imagine two hypothetical students. One is averaging 2s while the other averages 5s. On results day, the ‘2 student’ achieves a 1 while the ‘5 student’ reaches a 3 grade. Their teacher may congratulate them but in the eyes of the school, the ‘2 student’ is more valuable. Their 1 reflects well on the reputation of the school because it shows ‘we have 1 students here’.

But there’s value in both students, and prioritising learning would mean seeing the huge improvement made by the ‘5 student’ and not devaluing their learning. It’s these students who are likely to fall between the cracks.

Schools are obsessed with exams

And what of those who fail according to these standards? Students are only as good as the letters next to their names on exam results. Exams only measure how good students are at memorising facts and remembering them under pressure.

But they aren’t and shouldn’t be the end goal of education. And many young people are harshly made aware of that when they step out beyond formal education and try to succeed in life.

We’re so used to the “I succeeded without my GCSEs” messages that flood social media and public media on results day. So, why still place so much importance on exams? They’re flawed and harmful towards students.

Especially when it’s clear these young people are as brilliant and skilled enough to succeed in different ways. Treating young people as walking exam results is dehumanising, devalues them, and causes self-esteem issues with devastating effects.

Mental health and wellbeing are an afterthought

Six in ten parents of children under 18 believe that schools put more pressure on young people than ever before, while 73% of teachers said they believed the mental health of their students had deteriorated because of reformed exams.

In Mind charity’s 2021 report ‘Not Making the Grade: why our approach to mental health at secondary school is failing young people’, 96% of young people in England said their mental health affected their education. Many were frequently absent and struggled to meet schoolwork demands.

But instead of being supported to address underlying issue, their mental health problems were treated as bad behaviour. Many were sent into isolation, physically restrained, or excluded from school for this reason.

Among these are SEND students who are worse affected, waiting too long for potential diagnosis and left to fall through the cracks. Clinical psychologist Stephen Hinshaw and health economist Richard Scheffler have recently linked a surge in ADHD with high-pressure environment in schools and exams.

Schools are more likely to punish mental health problems than provide support. According to the same report, 62% of young people received no support from school for their mental health. When they do receive support, it’s either goal-orientated (being able to take exams) or sub-par.

And although progress is being made – £10million is being made available for mental health training in schools and colleges – the funding is not guaranteed but something schools have to compete and apply to receive. And it’s only being made available to 8,000 schools who have met arbitrary criteria. For context, there are nearly 25,000 schools in England alone. This isn’t good enough.

Read more:

Ex-teacher: schools failing students, as well as my daughter

School exams: a major flaw in the UK’s education system

Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Post-16 College Students

The 65 BIGGEST Issues In Education, Right Now? Part 2