The headteacher column with Richard Harrison

Richard Harrison, headteacher at The Market Weighton School.
Richard Harrison, headteacher at The Market Weighton School.

We are approaching the most stressful time of the year in schools as the pressure builds on Year 11 and 13 students who are about to take exams this summer. Most will have completed at least one set of trial exams and most will have another set of trials later this term.

There is good evidence that a small amount of stress can improve performance but it must be controlled. Based on a little research and my own experience here are some strategies to help limit the stress levels in the months ahead:

Exams can be a stressful time for students.

Exams can be a stressful time for students.


Between school work, social life, and home, teenagers have little time to get proper sleep.

Relaxation is necessary to de-stress. When the body is relaxed the mind also relaxes and rejuvenates. A full night’s sleep can help and short naps in-between tasks can also reduce the stress.

Physical activity

Physical activity is one of the best stress relievers in teenagers. Nothing beats stress like a run, bike ride or kick about with friends. When you are stressed, get some exercise – you’ll feel better afterwards. Most schools have after school clubs, evening fitness classes or check out the local sports centre.

Support from parents

Teenagers can be moody as it is, they become worse when they are stressed. Getting angry with them and punishing them for their behaviour when they are stressed is not going to help. If you want to help your teenager cope, you need to be there for them and support them. Encourage them to talk about what is worrying them. Talk is therapeutic and one of the most effective stress relievers too.

Healthy diet

A healthy diet is necessary to alleviate the tension that the body accumulates. A balanced diet that includes a good intake of fruits, vegetables and protein keeps your child healthy. When stressed we are more likely to have a takeaway and eat junk food. Try to replace such food with healthy options.

Focus on positives

When we are stressed it is easy to focus on what is going wrong. We tend to worry about what we don’t have and what we cannot do. Stress is the result of negative thinking and focusing on the negatives only makes things more difficult.

It may not be easy to stay positive after poor trial exam results but you can help your child by reminding them about their strengths and how they can put them to use to deal with the situation better.

If they think they are going to do badly they probably will! Far better to help them understand that they have experienced a trial exam and will now be far better placed to do well in the real situation.


Suggest your child starts revising now and has a revision plan leading up to the exams that is manageable. Plan in exercise, socialising and enough sleep. Performance in trial exams and past questions will increase leading to increased confidence and reduced stress.

Do what makes you happy

Helping your child focus on what makes them happy will reduce stress.

Indeed, having a good laugh is one of the best ways to reduce stress.

Let your teenager do what she or he likes, it could be something as simple as listening to music, playing a game, or watching TV.