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The GCSE is misaligned with our understanding of adolescent brain development and mental health

Adolescence is a unique stage of development when our bodies, hormones, and social environment are rapidly changing, the brain is developing and cognitive capacities become more sophisticated. This is the period of life during which young people are given more autonomy and responsibility to explore their environments, forge peer relationships and develop their self-identity. At the same time, young people in the UK are expected to sit multiple high stakes exams in the form of GCSEs or equivalent. There is mounting evidence of reduced well-being and increased anxiety and depression among those in their mid-teens, with exam stress and fear of failure being commonly cited anxieties. Given this evidence, Sarah-Jayne argues that now is the time to reconsider the utility of GCSEs at age 16.



Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, the leader of the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience Group, and the author of ‘Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain’. Her group’s research focuses on the development of social cognition and decision making in the human adolescent brain, and adolescent mental health.

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