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Academic achievement so often takes center stage in our children’s lives, there is so much pressure to succeed but often the emotional and mental implications of milestones are often overshadowed, especially on days like today – when countless teenagers will receive their A-Levels grades today.

Sara Hedger, an educational consultant and safeguarding specialist, today shines a spotlight on the interplay between academic pressures and student mental well-being, delving deep into the heart of what it means to be a student in today’s world.

Sara is also a judge for ‘the mentl awards 2023’ bringing her expertise to focus on categories such as

I spent this morning with a friend who was awaiting the results of his child’s exams.  I watched his frustration with the results platform being overwhelmed by requests for the results, his fear when he had not heard from his son, the anxiety from those around him asking if he had heard and then the quiet elation as he finally received the results from his son. I shared every excruciating emotion.

The grand reveal of A-level results marks a pivotal moment in the lives of countless students. Like the magician behind the curtain in Oz, the outcomes of these tests are often seen to have mythical powers to make or break a young person’s life path and therein lies a deeper narrative that warrants exploration—a narrative entwined with the delicate fabric of mental health and wellbeing.

The pursuit of academic excellence, while commendable, often erects walls around students, boxing them into a relentless cycle of expectations and pressures. The build-up to results day is a time of anticipation—a mix of excitement and anxiety interwoven into every waking moment of a student’s life.

This emotional turbulence is not confined to the few seconds it takes to open an envelope or view an email; it is a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, and late-night study sessions. This is particularly relevant to the current cohort who experienced extensive interruptions to their studies through COVID restrictions, phased returns, then returns with restrictions, exams cancelled, then not, then cancelled and finally high absence levels due to new variants etc. Whilst teachers often showed superhuman efforts to minimise disruptions, there were limits to what could be done.

“The quest for grades”

In the quest for grades, we sometimes forget the human toll these pressures can exact, wherever and whomever that pressure comes from. Mental health and wellbeing are the silent partners in this journey. Often forgotten and neglected in the rush for top marks. The toll can be profound, leading to anxiety, depression, and even burnout. The journey towards academic success should be accompanied by an unwavering commitment to the holistic development of the individual—acknowledging that grades are just one facet of a student’s multidimensional identity.

I ask this: Are we providing the emotional scaffolding that students need to weather the storms of results day but also other key events? This will not be the last time they wait in anticipation to know if they have passed something. In a society that values achievement and quantifiable success, the responsibility to foster mental resilience needs greater attention. With the media constantly reinforcing the concerns that grades are to be downgraded this year as some way of balancing out the COVID effect, this merely ramps up anxiety levels out there.

As educators, parents, and a society at large, we are entrusted with nurturing a generation that can rise above the numerical constraints of a grade sheet and see life for what it is and the challenges and opportunities that are out there. It is essential that we create environments that challenge students academically but also validate their struggles, their fears, and their aspirations beyond the classroom.

Moreover, the narrative of mental health should be a shared one. Students need to know that they are not alone in their emotional voyage. Support networks, both within educational institutions and in the broader community, should foster open conversations about mental health, resilience, and seeking help when needed. A results day should never be a solitary struggle but an occasion where students can lean on each other, their mentors, and their families, no matter the outcome. In the end, it is not solely about the results in that envelope—it is about the individuals who open it and their ongoing journey towards a well-rounded and fulfilling life.