Navigating the stormy waters of exam season with EdTech  

stressed student
By Tom Kershaw | 12th May 2022 | 5 min read

Exam season is here and with it comes an enormous amount of stress for students, which many are stating is currently immense. 

In fact, almost half of the 4,000 teachers surveyed in the My Tutor’s 2022 Exam Anxiety and Mental Health Report stated that Year 11 students are ‘coping worse with exam anxiety this year’.  

As we head towards the first public examinations in three years, this figure is likely to increase. 

TheGuardian further demonstrates exam season issues, highlighting that teachers in England have observed high levels of anxiety among pupils in the run-up to GCSEs and A-levels, with reports of panic attacks, angry outbursts, self-harm and disengagement among students. 

But how can you support students? Here we look at stress in a school environment and how EdTech can underpin student wellbeing and reduce exam period difficulties. 

Stress is contagious – and transmits downwards 

As covered in our recent webinar with Ian Gargan, Chief Medical Officer and Clinical Director of Imagine Health, stress is a natural and healthy feeling that everyone will experience at some point in their life. 

To prepare for later life, part of education’s role should be to expose students to forms of stress in a controlled environment that allows them to build resilience. 

This preparation is best supported by a mentally healthy workforce, who appear to students, at least, as detached from any of the stress-inducing problems, and whose behaviour towards them is fair, consistent and devoid of negative personal emotions. 

However, through no deliberate fault of their own, how many times do we see senior leaders communicating time-sensitive messages in an anxiety-provoking way during a morning meeting, raising the stress levels of those who will be directly interacting with students in the next few minutes?  

Teachers are only human, and even the best will transfer some of that stress to students; so, the first place to look to support student wellbeing is by looking after school staff. 

Abolishing admin  

Schools are naturally busy and chaotic environments, where time is at a premium for staff – especially during exam season. 

EdTech can help by reducing the administrative burdens on teachers, giving them back the time to teach and focus on students when they need it most. 

But how can admin-heavy processes be minimised?  

Centralised data  

A cloud-based management information system (MIS), houses student data in a location accessible from anywhere, providing teachers added freedom. 

To further reduce the administrative burden, the MIS must also be multi-functional, containing modules for attendance, assessment, behaviour, rewards and safeguarding.  

By doing so, data entry needs to only be performed once, and information regarding students can be found quickly and in a way that gives a complete picture. 

Parent communications  

Quickly communicating with parents can be fundamental during the exam season but often requires teachers to hunt furiously for contact information. 

However, your MIS should integrate seamlessly with a parental communication application, allowing teachers to quickly communicate with parents without having to leave that system. 

Also, by regulating communications through the MIS, teachers are shielded from a personal barrage of emails from largely well-meaning parents. 

Moreover, as highlighted in our recent whitepaper, the greatest student outcomes are achieved when teachers and parents are pulling in the same direction, with a synergistic impact on the wellbeing and attainment of students.  

Supporting behavioural policies  

The added stress of the exam period can often ignite behavioural issues among students, subsequently increasing the workload and demands for already stretched teachers. 

Having a system that allows simple, in-class logging of behaviour and reward points can minimise the time required, support behavioural policies and promote positive behaviour across a school (and a multi-academy trust).  

Additionally, if behavioural data is recorded centrally, it can be analysed for variances and support can be put in place for students who are struggling. 

Oiling the wheels of the exam engine  

When it comes to exam time, business as usual is key; you want your IT systems to enable the examination process, from an administrative side, in a way that reduces student anxiety. 

Streamlining timetables and access arrangements

Returning to communication apps, with a seamless link to your MIS, exam timetables and seating arrangements can be published to the same location as all other student communications, ensuring students and their parents aren’t searching for a scrunched-up piece of paper to tell them when their first exam is.  

Furthermore, with just under a third of candidates having some form of approved exam access arrangements in the 2020/21 GCSE cohort, without a module within your MIS that matches these access arrangements, there is much room for manual error by an overwhelmed exams officer.  

For students who rely on these access arrangements, the thought that they might not be in place on the morning of the exam is enough to considerably impact their performance. 

Signpost additional support 

A good communication platform enables you to signpost sources of additional help and contact information on a microsite within the app. 

These microsites ensure that students and parents are not wasting time searching for this information themselves, encouraging them to seek support and allowing experienced teaching professionals to sanitise and quality control the sources of help that are sought. 

Optimising day-to-day areas  

Exam time is also when you want business as usual for other aspects of the school environment.  

It’s critical that students eat regularly during exam periods (and at all times, for that matter!). 

With a cashless catering system operating onsite, you can ensure that anxiety-provoking queuing delays before afternoon exams are shortened. 

Parents’ nerves are also calmed by having information that their children have eaten at school, and any additional stressors, such as the stigma related to publicly claiming Free School Meals, are minimised through anonymising biometric scanning.  

More content: we covered cashless catering in greater detail here.  

EdTech can underpin culture 

EdTech, in itself, is not the remedy for the current mental health crisis: policy and culture are the solution.  

However, it’s teachers and school staff that deliver and create this change, and with competing priorities in a busy school environment, it’s clear something needs to be done to free up time. 

An investment in EdTech empowers staff to deliver these policies and live the culture of positive mental wellbeing – a decision that students and teachers alike will thank their leaders for. 

More information 

Did you miss IRIS Education and Imagine Health’s webinar on ‘Promoting positive student wellbeing during exam season’? You can catch-up here.  

Also, if you’d like to explore some of the software solutions mentioned in this article, click here.