Stressed out? Ring Exam Aid

A new organisation, launched by readers of The Independent's Education section, can offer help to youngsters suffering personal crises at exam time. By Bruce Harris
Click to follow
The Independent Online

In March last year, The Independent's Education section published my letter arguing for a voluntary organisation to support GCSE and A-level students with exam stress problems, particularly those resulting from domestic and personal crises out of school.

In March last year, The Independent's Education section published my letter arguing for a voluntary organisation to support GCSE and A-level students with exam stress problems, particularly those resulting from domestic and personal crises out of school.

There were already established voluntary organisations for health and poverty and for education itself, but there were none offering the specialised support that young people under stress because of personal problems need at such a difficult time as during public examinations.

An organisation offering additional support in such a crucial area of young people's lives seemed sensible, especially when both students and teachers were coming under greater pressure to do better than ever before.

The reaction to my letter indicated widespread sympathy for this point of view, and the organisation Exam Aid was born. There have been setbacks, of course. We haven't been able to offer a free national helpline, and then a complicated, regionally-based helpline proved unworkable.

The formal and legal processes of establishing the organisation have been longer and more complex than we anticipated. However, we approach this year's exam period with a functioning operation in place which is active in the following areas:

* The Exam Aid web site. A substantial site has been set up (www.examaid.co.uk) and it includes not only a guide to revision resources in nine subjects, but also resources in areas where personal crises might arise, such as bereavement and parental separation.

While a Problem Page gives students the chance to e-mail confidentially to an adviser (in this and other operations, the volunteer dealing with young people has to have at least four years' professional experience as a teacher or counsellor).

The site also supports our helpline and research operations. No pastoral teacher can reasonably be expected to be on call for 24 hours a day and must have some time off in order to function properly; the Exam Aid website is there 24 hours a day, in or out of school/ college time.

* A helpline is available for six hours a week, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (7pm-9pm) and Sunday afternoon (3pm-5pm). Calls cost no more than local rates.

* Schools, colleges, parents or teachers can ask for a student who is likely to be particularly vulnerable during the exam period to be given the contact details of an Exam Aid volunteer. The student can then make contact out of school hours when he or she wants or needs some support.

* We are in the process of doing a research project which looks at students' non-academic lives in Year 13. The pilot questionnaire, completed with 100 students in three institutions, suggests a lot of part-time working, a wide incidence of various kinds of personal crises and a student emphasis on the availability of various kinds of non-academic help. Our institutional members have received a report on the pilot questionnaire results, and have been invited to participate in a wider exercise which will involve students completing a 20-minute questionnaire. Other schools and colleges are welcome to join this project, and the result will be a Year 13 "profile" to help shape future provision.

* Our only regular source of income at the moment is membership. The package on offer includes a quarterly journal and various other benefits at £12 pa for individuals and £25 pa for institutional membership, with a £6 rate for students. Even those who volunteer to help with advising students are asked to join, although we hope that expanding resources in the future will help ease this situation. The more we have, the more we can do in all aspects of our work, including helplines, publications and display/support material.

Exam Aid is on its way, and the need for us is already clear enough. We're grateful for the continuing support of The Independent, and appeal to all concerned to help us in developing the project over the coming months and years.

Comments