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Academic pressure: Taking the issue seriously

02 February 2024
Volume 5 · Issue 1


Academic pressure can have a substantial impact on children and young people's health and wellbeing, despite this there is very little reliable data available. Stephanie Thornton explains why it is time to take the issue seriously.

Do we take the stress associated with academic pressures seriously enough? A recent editorial in the Lancet (2023) argues strongly that we do not. Although we think we know about such pressures, there is actually remarkably little data in this area. It is generally assumed that academic pressure is a factor in school absenteeism, in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety in the young, and even suicide – but data specifying the reality of such problems is remarkably lacking. Consequently, efforts to reduce the burden of such stress are poor.

The Children's Society performs regular surveys of happiness with children and their parents or carers, and their reports (The Good Childhood Report) are often cited as evidence for problems with school. Recent results are depressing (The Children's Society, 2023). Almost a quarter of children (24.3%) were unhappy with at least one aspect of life. Mean level of overall happiness with life has fallen steadily in 10–15-year-olds over the last 12 years. Mean happiness with school and schoolwork has shown a marked decline over that period. This is certainly suggestive of issues with academic pressures – but is not definitive: mean level of happiness has consistently fallen in every area assessed, including friendship and appearance, the one exception being happiness with family, which has been fairly static.

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