Get Exam Fit

Blog by Chris Wright, Head of Wellbeing, YST

The importance placed on this time of the school year is highlighted yet again with recent media outlets reporting spiralling mental wellbeing issues and exam stress!

Schools are increasingly under pressure to raise young people's achievement and attainment and are wilting under the pressure to manage increasing pressures on young people’s mental health and reducing depression and self harm.

Yes the one tonic for this UK-wide pandemic is being cut from school life for those pupils that most need it; physical activity! Many of the schools that I visit are cutting core PE for KS4 pupils as they build up to their exams. They take them on residential exam preparation camps and provide no outlet for pupils to unwind, relax, socialise and be active... it’s a ticking time bomb with many pupils exploding as they enter the examination hall!

I agree that achievement and attainment of pupils is important but not at the detriment of their mental health and this now represents one of the greatest challenges schools face today. At the Youth Sport Trust, we are committed to tackling these issues. We believe the role of PE, school sport and physical activity is critical in order to help schools address this issue. Extensive research both from our own charity and partners such as Public Health England, has proven beyond all doubt that physical activity can be one of the most important channels to reduce stress and anxiety and boost attitudes, as well improve physical wellbeing. 

Our Get Exam Fit programme aims to build confidence and help alleviate the overwhelming stress young people face in preparing for exams. Our incredible Athlete Mentors go in to schools and support Year 10 and Year 11 students throughout the year leading up to their GCSEs, by sharing their experiences and advice with dealing with stress and high pressure situations in the sporting world.

Findings from a recent pilot project we ran in Northamptonshire has had unprecedented success in helping young people build strategies to managing stress and anxiety for exams and for life. Not only did it have a direct impact on wellbeing but young people actually achieved more in their GCSE’s as a result! It is a great example of how we are working to improve the health and wellbeing of young people and take a preventative approach to young peoples’ emotional and physical wellbeing issues.

Why are we so passionate about this? Headteachers are telling us that the declining physical and emotional health of young people is currently the biggest barrier to achievement. By getting young people more physically active, we will develop creative, aspirational, resilient and empathetic people that are ready to perform, fit for work and healthy for life.

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