Young risk losing their childhoods, schools' head warns

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Image caption,
Young people face increasing pressure from the education system

Everything young people do now has to "tick a box towards future study and career", an independent schools leader has warned.

Girls' Schools Association head Gillian Low warned that as competition for university places intensified, pupils might no longer have time to be "young" and "carefree".

She warned of the growing pressure posed by the education system itself.

She added pupils needed time to develop confidence and broaden their interests.

Speaking at her organisation's annual conference in Manchester, GSA president Ms Low said the pressure on young people should not be underestimated:

"The endless testing, the introduction of the A* at A-levels, the consequently higher hurdles for some top universities, together with the devaluing of the A."

The headmistress of The Lady Eleanor Holles School in south-west London also warned of the impact of the A* grade at GCSEs.

She said: "One mistake on a bad day, at the age of just 16, that brings one A* grade down to an A, and it's no go at certain universities for you."

With "huge debts" facing future undergraduates, she warned "everything they do must now tick a box towards future study and career".

Pointing to the head of the university admission services' call for would-be students to use gap years to improve their standing on application forms, she said she understood the rationale for the advice.

'Sense of adventure'

She added: "But can they not be carefree, be young, for even a short time and, in that time, develop the confidence and resilience they will so badly need, broaden their interests, and grow up?

"It seems to me that there will soon be no time left for young people to 'stand and stare', to allow them to grow, to become more fully themselves, let alone have fun.

"I am not endorsing endless freebie holidays paid for by families.

"I believe that young people should work to pay for these travels, and engage in worthwhile projects.

"But we must be careful not to squash the natural idealism, the sense of adventure and the innate passion of young people into utilitarian boxes where everything must be 'strategic', 'focused' and 'targeted'."

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