Teenagers who fail to get five top-grade GCSE passes are more likely to feel “ashamed” and believe they have no talent, according to research out today.
The sense of shame is more likely to make them feel they have nothing to live for and face “devastating” symptoms of mental illness, the survey of 2,161 16- to 25-year-olds carried out by YouGov revealed.
It showed that while 15 per cent of young people “always” or “often” felt ashamed, the figure rose to 27 per cent amongst those who failed to get five A* to C grades at GCSE. This was even higher than the figure for NEETs (young people not in education, employment and training), which was 24 per cent.
Again, when asked if they believed they had no talent, 35 per cent of those without the exam passes said “yes” compared to 21 per cent overall.
Asked if they always or often felt hopeless, the figure was 37 per cent for those without GCSEs and 24 per cent overall.
The five A* to C grade measure has been used for ranking schools in league tables, which means teachers are under pressure to get as many pupils to achieve it as possible.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said one of the reasons for low esteem could be as a result of the limited range of activities that were recognised as achievements.
“The important thing is we should recognise great artists, highly talented musicians and good sports people – rather than just academic success,” he added. “When you give children the chance to show off a different worth, it builds their confidence – and they can also shine academically as a result.
The consequences of failing to spot talent, the report argues, could lead to long-term unemployment, reliance on anti-depressants (unemployed young people are twice as likely to be reliant on them) and potentially suicide (one in three unemployed considers this).
As a result, the Prince’s Trust – joint sponsors of the research – is calling for support from the Government, health agencies and employers to fund its work with long-term unemployed young people, which aims to build their self-esteem and help them move into work.
Martina Milburn, its chief executive, said: “Unemployment is proven to cause devastating long-lasting mental health problems amongst young people. Thousands wake up every day believing life isn’t worth living after struggling for years in the dole queue.”