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"When a kid attempts suicide over a NAPLAN test, we need to stop and think."

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains mention of suicide and self harm. If this raises any issues for you, you can contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or beyondblue 1300 22 4636 for support.

Yesterday I read something that made me want to cry.

A Year 5 student struggling through a NAPLAN test stood up, walked out of the classroom, and attempted suicide on the school grounds. The student had mental health issues and was performing well below average in class, but his mother had wanted him to take the test.

Why are we doing this to our kids? Why are we putting them under this unnecessary pressure at such a young age?

At the start of the April school holidays this year, I took my son to a bookshop to buy him a few new books he’d been asking for. There’s a kids’ series about dragons that he absolutely loves. As we stood at the counter, him clutching his dragon books, I noticed another boy and his mother standing near us. That boy was holding a stack of NAPLAN practice test books.

I knew how he was going to be spending his holidays.

Yesterday, as I was walking into my son’s school to pick him up, a man standing out the front handed me a flyer offering tutoring services. Among the services offered was “NAPLAN tutoring”.

Yep, you can pay to have someone supervise your child as they sweat over English and maths questions, after hours.

Again, why are we doing this to our kids?

These are children in Year 3 and Year 5. They’re eight or 10 years old. They should be spending their spare time running around outside, or lying around reading books about dragons. They shouldn’t be practising for an exam, and feeling all the stress that comes with that. But they are.

NAPLAN may have been introduced with good intentions – to give a snapshot of where kids and schools are at – but it’s become clear over the years that it’s causing more harm than good. We’ve all heard the stories about schools teaching to NAPLAN, making kids sit practice tests over and over, at the expense of the rest of the curriculum. But even if schools don’t teach to NAPLAN, there’s still pressure on vulnerable parents to buy the books and hire the tutors. They’re just trying to do the best for their kids. But they’re really putting pressure on them at a terribly young age.

At a time when the rate of anxiety and other mental health issues among kids is so high, why are we doing this to them?

My son’s school doesn’t make a big deal of NAPLAN. They get the kids to do one practice test beforehand, and that’s it.

60 Minutes investigated the pressure of NAPLAN exams on children, this is what they found.

Video by 60 Minutes

My son did NAPLAN for the first time this year. He did fine, for someone who didn’t work his way through any practice test books beforehand or have any tutoring. I guess reading all those books about dragons must have taught him something about spelling and grammar, without him even realising it.

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His test results didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.

I don’t know how my son’s school compares to other schools when it comes to NAPLAN, and I don’t really care. In fact, I would be suspicious of any school that boasted about its NAPLAN results.
I would prioritise kids’ mental health and happiness over test results, any day.

That tragic story about the boy who attempted suicide during a NAPLAN test was told by a Canberra school principal, Shane Gorman, at an ACT inquiry into standardised testing. Gorman said he’d tried to create “no stress” about NAPLAN at his school, but this had happened anyway.

“People don’t realise the stress it puts on kids,” Gorman told the inquiry.

We need to listen to teachers and principals, the ones who see what kids are going through, day by day. If they say NAPLAN is harming kids, we need to believe them.

As a parent, I want to add my voice to theirs. Our kids don’t need the stress of NAPLAN.

What do you think of the controversy surrounding the NAPLAN exams? Tell us in a comment below.

If this post has raised any issues for you or if you would like to speak with someone, please contact your general practitioner. If you’re in Australia you can also reach Lifeline on 13 11 14, beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or the Kid’s Helpline on 1800 551 800 for support.

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