Name: Emma B
Location: Essex, UK
As a Year 11 in a very competitive grammar school, I (unfortunately) never thought how I was feeling at the time was anything out of the ordinary. My secondary school was the definition of an ‘exams factory’; conditioning you to believe that a grade B actually stood for ‘bad’, being ranked against your peers for every assessment, with your ranking posted in the corridor for anyone to view. In retrospect, it’s no wonder my mental health plummeted.
I first started to struggle in December of Year 11, with pressure to perform well in the imminent mock exams stacking up. I had been a straight A* student throughout secondary school, and there was an expectation that I would maintain the standard I had set for myself. I didn’t. I was made to feel as though I’d let all of my teachers, and ultimately myself, down. I forced myself to stop going out with my friends and doing recreational activities as a form of self punishment for the grades I had achieved - which unfortunately developed into self harm. It was constantly reiterated to us how close the real exams were, and I found myself having panic attacks in class when I didn’t understand a new concept straight away, worried that I was going to fail. When I eventually went to seek help it became apparent that the regime had taken its toll on many of my classmates, as the waiting list for the school counsellor was 14(!) weeks long.
Despite leaving with a confirmed place at another grammar school’s sixth form, I was deeply upset with the GCSE grades that I attained and felt like a failure. I left secondary school with a lack of trust in school, which led to me having a similar breakdown when the pressure mounted in Year 12. I ended up starting my A Levels all over again at a local college, where I had a completely different experience to that at school. We were treated like adults, responsible for our own learning from day one. There was no pressure to perform for anyone but yourself. I’ve now achieved a good set of A Level results and will soon be starting my degree!