A broken system?

I'm Broken Inside (Panorama BBC 11th April 2016) was heartbreaking to watch, seeing how young people needing mental health support are so badly let down in our country by a health care system which is ill-equipped to meet their needs. And the number of children who need support in the UK is greater than ever.

One statistic that stood out for me is that the number of children and young people suffering with depression has doubled since the 1980s. It set me wondering why - what has changed in that time that would make this happen? There are many things, of course - changes in family demographics; the ever-growing tide of technology which absorbs our attention and leaves children and young people more socially isolated than ever, as well as more vulnerable to bullying; the reduction in the amount of time children spend outside because of perceived safety risks... But I believe one of the key changes has been in our education system.

When I trained as a primary school teacher in the 1980s the emphasis was on the child as the focus of the learning process - the 'child-centred learning' which became popular 20 years earlier. It was an approach that valued each person and stressed their individual strengths, learning needs and styles, with a perception that each child should be enabled to achieve his or her potential. It wasn't perfect and had many critics, but it did recognise the child as unique and place them at the heart of what happened in the classroom.

Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1988, the emphasis has gradually shifted - often despite the best efforts of teachers - to put the curriculum and not the child at the centre of the learning process. What you know, rather than how you learn, is what matters - and multiple tests throughout primary school and beyond reinforce that message to children. They are constantly having to strive to meet targets and expectations, and too often living with a fear of failure, and being made aware of that from an early age.
As confident adults secure in our self-worth we might cope with that (although not all of us would); but what impact does a system which applies such pressure and so often reinforces a sense of failing have on the self-image and self-esteem of children and teenagers?

A depressing thought...