United Kingdom

Teachers told to stop warning students they won't get a job if they do badly in exams

Teachers must stop using scare tactics such as warning about poor future job prospects to make GCSE and A-level pupils work harder, according to the exams watchdog.

Ofqual said the technique can backfire, leaving students stressed, unmotivated and performing worse in tests.

Staff could instead help them set achievable but stretching ‘personal best goals’ over the year to aid ‘motivation’.

Ofqual said scare tactics can backfire, leaving students stressed, unmotivated and performing worse in tests (file image)

The report by Emma Howard, from Ofqual’s strategy team, reviews recent research into exam stress and anxiety.

It notes that teachers’ use of ‘fear appeals’ – messages that are intended to encourage studying by warning about the consequences of failure – can increase pupils’ nerves.

‘In the run up to assessments, particularly those perceived as high stakes, teachers might use tactics that they believe to be motivational to encourage studying and test preparation, such as fear appeals,’ the report says.

‘Fear appeals are messages that often emphasise the importance of high-stakes exams and the necessity of achieving certain grades for progression to education or employment. Teachers can also indicate the negative consequences of not responding to these messages, such as having unfavourable occupational opportunities.

‘The use of fear appeals is observed across the range of educational stages and even though the intention is to motivate academic behaviour, they can be detrimental.’ The report notes that this can happen in primary and secondary schools.

‘For instance, constant references to National Curriculum Tests by teachers in primary schools is argued to be a source of fear for students,’ it says. ‘And students studying for their GCSEs often experience fear appeals as an upsetting and anxiety-provoking threat.

‘The degree to which a student internalises the fear appeal as a threat or a challenge depends on the student’s academic self-concept and their evaluation of the message.

Staff could instead help them set achievable but stretching ‘personal best goals’ over the year to aid ‘motivation’ (file image)

‘If the student believes that they are capable of achieving the desired outcome of the fear appeal, then the student typically interprets the message as challenging and responds positively.

‘However, if the student does not believe that they can achieve the desired outcome, they typically interpret it as a threat and respond with behaviours that impede academic success (such as procrastination and avoidance).

‘For those who perceive fear appeals as a threat, the worry and tension experienced as a result has been shown to contribute to higher levels of test anxiety, lower class engagement and lower task performance.’

Staff and parents’ ‘unreasonably high expectations’ can also increase pressure for pupils.

The report concludes that schools need to help pupils combat exam stresses by creating positive learning environments, in which ‘co-operative’ rather than ‘competitive’ peer relationships are encouraged.