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How Stressed Children Are in a Primary School Essay

The recent publication of a Cambridge research paper on high stress levels amongst UK primary school children made national headlines. It told parents of an uncomfortable truth that primary classrooms are not the places of fun and learning that typifies an idealistic notion of education in the UK. It spoke of stress, anxiety and worry in classrooms, where children show signs of distress due to high expectations, excessive workloads and having to shoulder unrealistic responsibilities. But just how accurate is this picture? Is it possible to expect young children to understand the complexities of the manifestations of stress and the inaccuracies of self-appraisal given possible low levels of emotional literacy? This paper explores how feasible it is to collect accurate data from children about their own stress and evaluates how such information can be collected. It concludes that there are a variety of ways of gaining information about stress from children, some better than others, but leaves no doubt that children can be ideal subjects for such research if the design and execution of the study is given due consideration.

The world of primary education, it would seem, from anecdotal evidence from parents of primary school pupils, is not what it used to be. Clichés such as ‘its not like it was in my days!’ or ‘school was much easier and more fun in the olden days!’ can often be heard echoing across parents groups in school yards or in local supermarkets. But is school such a difficult place for children today? A recent paper, published by a Cambridge University research group would suggest that life in a primary school is not as stress free as most parents would want to assume. In order to help understand this uncomfortable notion, this paper will explore whether children are capable of giving accurate information about their stress levels and how this could be collected.

Stress research is a well established field spanning eight decades, from Walter Cannon’s seminal work in 1927 on flight and flight, to Mark Kovacs’ recent paper on ‘Stress in the Workplace’, (Kovacs 2007). It fact it seems that there are very few areas of modern life that stress research has not touched upon. In relation to everyday activities, research covers stress at work (eg Kovacs 2007, McCarthy & Sheehan,1996), stress in the street (Brennan,1993), paradoxically there has been studies around stress in leisure activities (Noakes 1991) and crucially for this paper, stress in school environments (eg Williams & Gersch, 2004; Murray and Harrison, 2005 and the recently published Cambridge Primary Review paper 2007).

The subject base for stress research has also been highly eclectic, ranging from stress in the elderly (Hodgson, Freedman &, Granger, 2004), to stress at birth and even stress levels in individuals not yet born, (Graham, Heim, Goodman, Miller and Nemeroff 1999). There is a case to be argued however, that very much like the Freudian theory of psychosexual development, there appears to be a relative ‘hiatus of interest’ in the levels of stress in children between the ages of 6 and 11. This crucial period of education covers the majority of Key Stage 1 and all of Key Stage 2 and it would seem to be a pivotal juncture in a child’s education. It is in this period that most children will be structuring their leaning patterns and assimilating vast amounts of knowledge in all areas of the school both academic and social.

It could be considered somewhat remarkable therefore that there is relatively less stress research done in education at this age. It is particularly pertinent when we consider that this active period of learning is then brought to a close with the mandatory Key Stage 2 SAT papers. It is perhaps this singular event that indicates, for most pupils, their rights of passage into the world of secondary education where structured exams and revision regimes are rife. So why is it that research during this ‘Latency Period’ (Freud 1905d) of a child’s educational development is so under represented? It could be because it now appears to be a relatively settled period in a child’s educational life.

It may be that in most areas of the UK, the predominantly two-tier education system has removed a major period of transition half way through this phase of schooling. This process of downsizing transitions eradicated a well defined cause of stress in pupils and exaggerated difficulties in coping (Rudduck.J, 2004; Lohaus. A, 2004). However could it also be argued that models of stress and theories for coping with traumatic events are not comprehensive enough to cover this very specific area of children’s development in such settings? It is important therefore to explore how adult models of stress address environmental and personal issues and whether these can be attributed to children in a primary classroom.

Stress models for adults

Modern stress research has placed itself firmly within the interactionist perspective characterized largely by Lazarus and Folkman (1984). Their model for the possible development of stress explores the essential thought processes that occur in any given situation and the judgments the individual makes in assessing their own ability to cope with the demands placed upon them at any one time. This ‘appraisal’ and subsequent stress levels are governed primarily by recollecting previous performances and the effectiveness of learned coping strategies in similar situations. It seems clear then that by using the interactionist model, there may be opportunities to provide greater opportunities to understand children’s stress in the classroom. In order to fully explore this area, it seems pertinent to start by delving into specific models of stress that add to our knowledge about its development in adults and explore whether these could be used with children in a primary school environment.

One such model that may be relevant to this paper was developed by Palmer, Cooper and Thomas (2001) who looked at stress in the workplace. This model proposes that there are six contributors to the development and/or the management of stress levels in and around most places of work. These mitigating factors include work/environmental demands, support, change and the worker’s role within the ‘company’ (see below). It would seem on first inspection that this is truly an adult model of stress as it is located in adult world of work. However as there do not appear to be any established or substantial research as yet, to determine the difference between ‘work’ being in an office, a factory or a shop and ‘work’ as in a classroom, it could be argued that if the ‘classroom’ was seen as a workplace and pupils considered ‘employees’, Palmer et al’s model does have some relevance. Below is Palmer et al’s model as published in the ‘Health Education Journal’ 2001.

Figure 1: Palmer, Cooper and Thomas’s model of stress in the work place (2001)

A Stress model for children?

Using the key structure of this model, it is possible to transpose details into a new representation that may be appropriate to help explore stress in children in a school situation. This process of transformation can largely be done by ‘translating’ words and terminology used in the flowchart above into words relevant and applicable to similar aspects of a school environment. A typical example of this would be that the reference to ‘employees’ would need to read ‘pupils’. Perhaps the more difficult aspect of this translation relates to its exploration of ‘negative outcomes’. It is clear that increased and sustained stress levels in children is less likely to lead to coronary heart disease or RSI in the short term than it would in adults, so perhaps more pertinent aspects of this section of the model would relate to an escalation in poor behaviours or higher absenteeism. Table 1 below shows a complete translation of Palmer et al’s terminology using this ideology.

Once this translation of meaning has been established then it appears that this model does provide some insight into possible factors that may contribute to stress levels in children. Further exploration of Palmer, Cooper and Thomas’s model would establish how these factors would impact upon the individual and at the whole school level. Table 2 on page 7 shows how Palmer et al’s structure would apply to a school model. It seems clear that there is a probable link between stress levels of a child in the classroom and organisational dysfunctions in the structure of the classroom and possibly to aspects of the whole school.

This new model also shows where possible stressors come from for the pupil and how this could be managed to alleviate higher levels of stress across a school environment. It could be argued that a central difficulty in attributing the interactionist perspective model of stress to children is flawed by the intrinsic tenet of the model. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) believe that the essential tool of stress appraisal is the ability to reflect on past experiences to determine the individual’s ability to cope with the current situation.

How then, does this model apply to young children whose experiences are more limited than those of an adult? Does this lack of experience allow a young child the ability to accurately evaluate past experiences against past performances? An example of this could be when pupils are required to complete the Key Stage 1 SAT papers. Even though teachers will have tried to prepare each pupil with several practices in answering unfamiliar maths and literacy booklets, the actual test is unfamiliar due to the heightened expectations of the day itself. How are pupils able to reflect on past experiences of this? Perhaps the best that can be achieved is the familiarity with the style of the test but not necessarily with the SAT day itself. If this is the case, when the interactionist perspective is extrapolated to Key Stage 2 SATs it is likely that a bad experience in the Key Stage 1 SAT papers will affect perceptions of performance during the SAT tests in Year 6.

Using this model, it must be argued that in order to achieve better results in Key Stage 2 SATs, there is a case to be made to enhance the positive experiences of sitting formal tests at an earlier age. This could be achieved by either taking away the pressure to achieve in Year 2 or indeed use these tests and tasks to give the pupils positive experiences to build upon. It is likely that a bad experience in Year 2 increases the likelihood of future failures or anxieties. To facilitate this process the model outlined in table 2 above could be used to facilitate good practice, improve support mechanisms, strengthen positive relationships and encourage a greater ability to handle change. This may also have a positive impact on the pupils and the whole school in the long term. The adaptation of Palmer, Cooper and Thomas’s model will allow a school practitioner the opportunity to affect whole school social dynamics by focusing upon the ‘potential hazards’ and being pro-active in offsetting the negative impact they can have on a school environment. But how successful have primary schools been so far in this role?

Stress in the classroom

In October 2007 the Cambridge Primary Review explored life in a primary classroom from a child’s perspective. The process of data collection, which took place between January and March 2007, collected evidence from a whole range of professionals in the primary education sector as well as people drawn from the wider community. These subjects included children themselves, who are referred to as ‘witnesses’ in the paper. In total there were nine Community locations in different parts of England, culminating in a total of 87 witness sessions, attended by over 750 people. This is clearly an important piece of research that cuts across cultural boundaries and local government differences.

It would seem that this research is an amalgamation of collective thought, however there may be some difficulties with interviewing subjects such as children which will be explored in greater detail below. However such research conclusions cannot go unnoticed for long and immediately after its publication in academic circles, their conclusions made national headlines. It was this research that spawned a raft of emotive headlines across all forms of media in the UK. Articles fronted by ‘Children ‘stressed and depressed’ and ‘Primary Cause for concern’ were used offering direct quotes about what causes children such stress, citing:

“the gloomy tenor of ‘what you hear on the news’ or by a generalised fear of strangers, burglars and street violence.”

ITN webpage – Friday 12th October 07:05 am

Furthermore articles in the media were concluding that:

‘ …our young children are anxious, badly behaved, stressed, depressed and obsessed with the cult of celebrity’

Garner, 2007 page 1

These emotive and somewhat generalized media headlines, alongside the Cambridge’s research papers demonstrate that there appears to be a high level of stress and depression in primary classrooms, but there is also a lot of anxiety in the ‘media’ at the possibility of there being stress and depression in the classroom. These headlines echo Mays’ conclusions who observed in his paper in ‘Stresses in Children’ (1996):

‘ there is still much to frighten, to frustrate and to intimidate a growing child’
(page 41)

But just how successful are research methods and models of stress in helping to clarify and explain possible sources of stress in the primary classroom? Is it possible to accurately measure stress in children given some of the constraints of data collection? Perhaps more importantly are children able to understand the complexity of stress responses and have sufficient levels of emotional literacy to be able to accurately describe whether they are stressed or not? It seems a foregone conclusion, in stress research, that the respondent themselves is able to understand what stress is and how it affects them and to be able to recognise when they are stressed or not in given circumstances. It seems that collecting stress data from children is fraught with implicit difficulties. However, this should not deter such research being completed; it means only that the data collected may need a greater level of analysis and more rigorous reflection to be able to make any real conclusions.

Collecting Stress data from Children

There are two key difficulties with any stress research, both of which are applicable when exploring stress in children. The first central problem is that there is an absence of a common definition of stress and this makes research difficult due to the amorphous nature of how stress can manifest itself in different individuals (Ramsden 2007a). The second, somewhat related difficulty is that the vocabulary used to describe stress is often used loosely or interchangeably. It is not uncommon to read in books and research papers subsequent paragraphs using terms such as stress, anxiety, and worry to describe similar aspects of this phenomenon.

Furthermore there is a central need to take care when referring to stress in terms of how it would change a person’s demeanor and/ or thought patterns. Stress research refers to stress as both a definition and a symptom. This can be somewhat overcome by trying to establish key differences in terms of relating anxiety as a symptom of stress, in very much the same way as references are made to headaches, depression and irrational thought, all of which may be as a direct result of the stress a person is under. However some research is now suggesting that stress, anxiety and depression are indeed co-variants and the inter-relationship and synonymous presence of all of these problems together may indeed be:

‘ the rule rather than the exception.’
Compass and Hammem (1996)pg 242

If this comorbidity of anxiety, depression and stress has such strong bonds, then trying to ascertain what the differences are between these manifestations may be an impossible task. If this is the case then the interactionist perspective may indeed be the significant filter that holds such research together. By taking the essence of the Lazarus and Folkman (1984) model, the reason why a person feels they can’t cope is of secondary importance to the fact that they feel they can’t cope with current demands. Furthermore if such feelings of helplessness are born out of, or are exacerbated by, depressive tendencies then this is irrelevant to the basic fact that the individual feels they can’t cope with demands and therefore will be stressed. This tenet must then hold true for stress research into children. It does not seem to matter why the child feels stressed, the fact that they do, means that they are! That is, provided that they understand what feeling stressed is, which falls back to the central difficulty of how effectively can you measure a phenomenon such as stress within a child when a child may not understand the phenomenon themselves?

However, this then leads onto another dilemma. If it can be demonstrated that the children at the centre of the research have obtained a sufficient level of emotional literacy to determine what being stressed feels like, then to collect stress data in children, a methodological choice between two specific models needs to be made. The first strategy for collecting data uses the principle underlined by Selye (1934) that stress is a biological response to the environment and therefore it is possible to use biometric measures such as blood pressure and galvanic skin responses An alternative model such as that proposed by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) uses reflective self analysis to determine the individual’s ‘perception’ of their own stress.

This second method can be collected in a number of ways but perhaps the most basic, but not necessarily the most simplistic, is either through questionnaires and/or interviewing the individual themselves. Before these qualitative methods are discussed it is important to explore the more quantitative methods of data collection in children. Some of these discussion points can be found in Ramsden (2007b) which explores variations in data collection in greater detail, however it does not elucidate how they can be utilized with children and therefore it is worth touching on some of those points again but with specific reference for research with children.

Biometric data collection in children

If the argument is that children do not have the experiential capability to understand what stress is and the ability to describe accurately how they are feeling, or indeed able to recognise when they are stressed, then it seems plausible to assume that a more standardized, less subjective and fundamentally, a less reflective method of data collection is needed. In terms of stress research, the collection of such ‘clinical’ information must revolve around measuring biological responses rather than a child’s ability to tell the researcher when they are feeling stressed, and how this is different to when they are not feeling stressed.

This biological method of data collection has its foundation in some of the earliest research into stress. Some of the very first experiments into the stress response were conducted by Hans Selye (1907-1982), an endocrinologist who conducted his work largely in the first half of the Twentieth Century. In his studies, he used biometric measurements from laboratory rats to determine the level of stress they were under. Selye, who was later given the accolade of the first person to define stress, referred to it as:

” a non-specific (i.e. common) result of any demand on the body, whether the effect be mental or somatic” page 32 (Selye1936)

His definition may well have some value here. If we take the stance that young children are indeed unable to identify accurately what stress is, then we should be measuring this ‘non-specific’ demand on the body in a purely biological way. It would seem plausible then that by observing children in a primary school throughout a typical day or week, and by taking regular measurements, there may be a case to correlate variations in biological states at certain times of the day. Collecting data such as changes in blood pressure, pulse rates and sweating may give an insight into times when the body is under stress and when the child is calmer and more relaxed. This information could then be matched with events, observations and activities and correlated to show changes in responses to situations encountered.

Using this method it should be relatively easy to find out whether participation in SAT tests or some other social situations, that blood pressure, pulse rates and GSR increase to reflect the physical, and by default, the emotional state of the child, and therefore conclude that this was or was not a stressful event for them. There may be a problem with this type of research however. Apart from some of the ethical difficulties, there is a crucial observation to be made. It could be argued that for children, the actual process of data collection may affect their stress levels. It could also be surmised that the actual method of data collection can be as stressful as the event in itself and therefore eradicate any impartiality in the result. There may be echoes here of the ‘Hawthorne effect’ (Roethlisberger & Dickson, 1939). Although a concept that has been applied to business models, it is worth exploring a little here. First established by Elton Mayo, Fritz Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson who saw it as:

‘a temporary change to behavior or performance in response to a change in the environmental conditions.’

Roethlisberger & Dickson (1939)., page14

This definition is a salient one in this discussion. It could be argued that even if the outline of a study was not described to children, and even if the children were not aware that they were being studied so closely, there would be a difference in their day because at somepoint some interactions are needed to measure changes to their physiological state. This would be even more prevalent if these changes were happening alongside other stresses such as SAT tests. It seems therefore that by measuring a response, as Shaver (1981) highlighted, evokes close links with the Hawthorne principles.

‘Almost no matter what experimental conditions were imposed….the investigators had obviously influenced the subjects’ behavior merely by studying that behavior.’

Kelly Shaver p272

In order to measure stress in a primary classroom then, some continuous measurement needs to happen that can be compared to a baseline. This in itself could be problematic. For some children the basis of their stress and the source of their fears and anxieties may come from the school environment itself. If being in the school itself is a cause of high levels of stress, it would be very difficult to ascertain a baseline to measure relative changes to stress levels in the individual. Studies into autistic children in some school environments (Hiroshi 1991) show that for many individuals school can be one continuous bombardment of stressful events. Extensive studies into school phobia at the primary level (eg: Place, Hulsmeier, Davis and Taylor, 2002; King and Ollendick, 1989) also indicate that it would be very difficult to determine a relaxed state for a baseline.

In order to address this quandary, one possible method of data collection would be to use a portable blood pressure (BP) kit for example that would pose less intrusive method that enables an individual’s BP to be taken automatically without the need to stop and prepare for the examination. But this in itself causes problems apart from the physical tightening process of blood pressure being taken, it also serves as a reminder that they are being observed.

This could be offset however by having a period of acclimatization where the individual being measured would get used to such routines and this may normalize the influence of the measurements being taken. Studies using adults seem to suggest that repetetive BP monitoring does not interfere with the validity of the data (Georgiades, Lemne, De Faire, Lindvall, Fredrikson,1997; Steptoe and Cropley, 2000) but the evidence to suggest that this is the case in studies using children as subjects is not clear. In the absence of any certainlty as to whether collecting biometric data in children can provide reliable evidence, it is important to explore other ways of gathering primary data from children.

Qualitative methods of data collection with children

As discussed above, in order to collate qualitative evidence of stress in children, there needs to be a clear understanding of a child’s ability to know when they are feeling stressed as opposed to when they are feeling relaxed. Fortunately for the stress reasearcher in this field, there is now a plethora of commercial teaching materials available to schools on Emotional Health and Well-being. Furthermore with ‘Being Healthy’ formally on the national agenda through the Every Child Matters (ECM) outcomes (eg Every Child Matters: Change for Children. DfES publication -1110-2004), the PSCHE curriculum in the primary school seems full of opportunities for even the youngest of children to explore their own emotions. It can be said therefore, that pupils in today’s primary schools are better equipped to discuss their emotional state than they have ever been.

It seems fair to assume from this, that there only needs to be some basic ground work teaching to occur to give children the necessary vocabulary and a sense of introspection required to respond to stress-related questions and produce meaningful results. Nevertheless, even with this encouraging notion, it is important that the researcher does not lose sight of the influence they may have when trying to obtain children’s views.

As with any socio-psychological research, and especially any involving children, ascertaining views on levels of stress or trying to clarify what causes stress does not lead to the adult influencing the responses or the conclusions the child makes about a given situation. This is of particular interest to stress research because of its important in the Lazarus and Folkman (1984) model of Cognitive Appraisal. It is vital, that that the child themself, determines whether a particular situation was stressful or not, rather than the adult implying to the child that it was. This effect is known as ‘Psychological Causality’ and is important in stress research with children. Herbert describes this phenomenon as:

‘…the tendency in young children to attribute a psychological motive as a cause of events’ Herbert page 23 (1996)

Although Psychological Causality is not usually associated with stress research, it is important to bear in mind that it may be a factor when determining sources of stress in the primary classroom. Especially if this research is conducted in and around other stresses such as SATs, school performances or parents’ evenings. In order to clarify what these stresses are, further research into this field is needed and would help to clarify the influencing factors of data collection.

The use of questionnaires

One formal method of collecting quantitative information is the use of questionnaires. Perhaps their greatest strength is that it can provide a fair and rigorous structure to the questioning procedure. By handing out questionnaires to all the children, each child will have the opportunity to answer the same questions as everyone else. This rigidity also allows the researcher the ability to analyse statistically the evidence. The use of questionnaires for children is not uncommon and can provide a useful insight into many research areas. The use of a questionnaire as a method of collecting data from children is not without its difficulties however. The first point and perhaps the most salient is that formalising questions through prose has two basic problems.

1. Do the questions allow children the opportunity to give answers that are meaningful to the research question? 2. Will the wording of each question be interpreted by children in the way the researcher wanted them to be answered?

Because of these two issues, It is very important therefore to focus on the wording of these questionnaires so that specific vocabulary such as stress, anxiety, worry and nervousness are not misconstrued by the reader and answered in different ways. It seems that once again a lack of a formal definition of stress hampers validity and structure in research design. It seems that compiling a flawless stress questionnaire is very difficult. Fife-Schaw (2000) takes this notion further:

‘Designing the perfect questionnaire is probably impossible’
Fife-Schaw pg159

Nevertheless, even with such limitations, a questionnaire may be useful in ascertaining information but will need some very careful planning. Bath and North East Somerset Council provide some helpful guidelines in their ‘Children in Need Handbook’ on principles for using forms and questionnnaires with children and young people. This information offers advice suggesting that some feedback about the results are done ‘…either immediately and/or at a later session’, but most importantly in the implementation of the questionnaire to:

‘Allow plenty of time’

Bath and North East Somerset Council ‘Children in Need Handbook’ (2007) page 47

Giving children enough time to read and process the questions raises a number of key issues, all of which may impact on the validity of the answers collected. Central to these difficulties is the child’s ability to reflect appropriately on their own changing emotional states and determine which events, if any, could be regarded as being under stress. It could be that this variance in what children understand about stress may invalidate results as it may be difficult to ascertain any consistency amongst the data. This could mean that some children need additional or supplementary support in answering the questions. If the questions need to be read out or explained to the child then this could influence how the child answers the question. An immediate concern to the researcher therefore, is whether the responses given reflect the child’s true feelings or ones that are dictated by the way the question is received?

This difficulty in ascertaining consistency however may not be such a diffcult obstacle in collating data as it could be in other areas of research. Once again the Cognitive Appraisal model is able to lessen these problems. If the assumption is that all primary children have a ‘basic’ understanding of what stress is and how it affects them, then any reference to feeling anxious, stressed and or upset in a particular sitaution is pertinent to their ‘assessment’ and therefore their perception of the situation.

This data can then be used qualitatively by the use of any ‘thematic analysis’ technique to attribute feelings associated with the notion of stress, irrespective of the possible misuse of language by children. It seems that using markers or coding systems can help capture a variety of words used and still maintain an acceptable level of structure to the analysis of the data. The questionnaire may also need some modification in the format according to the child’s developmental stage (Sadock and Sadock 2000). Given all of these variables and constraints, perhaps the more flexible method of collecting data would be to talk to the children directly.

Interviewing children

Interviewing children needs careful handling. Chan highlights the difficulty children have when answering open ended questions such as ‘How did you feel ?” to unknown adults, indicating that many may respond with a passive response such as “I don’t know’, Chan (2005). Conversely in an interview scenario, Breakwell highlights the problem of ‘Acquiescence Response Bias’ (ARB) when asking children direct or closed questions such as ‘Did you feel stressed?’ She feels that the ARB often leads a child to say “Yes” to any question posed by an adult, irrespective of their own true feelings. Her advice however may not necessarily be helpful given Chan’s perspectives. Breakwell (2000) advises:

‘Questions should be posed so that they are not open to a yes – no response’.

Page 245

How then can a researcher obtain collectable data on levels of stress in children that has some validity? The answer to this may be by looking closer to the research subjects. The age of the child is going to be important and can affect the structure of the interview. In some cases it may be necessary to have an adult in with the researcher who can be used for moral support but the choice of the adult needs very careful thought. The ‘Save the Children’ organization issue a very clear message about the sensitivity needed when choosing this person.

‘Ensure that adults are out of the way – except for the translator and perhaps a project worker, teacher, or another adult that the child knows and trusts.’

Taken from Save the Children/ ‘Interviewing children’ (2007) accessed on the web 17.11.07

In some cases however, especially where children are older and more confident in their social interactions, it may be sufficient to interview the child on their own but in a less formal and more relaxed environment. Furthermore, whether adults are present or not, the interviewer should not limit themselves to interviewing and/or questioning by the use of words alone. By structuring the communications around other activities it may be possible to elicit emotional responses through activities such as play, drawings or model building Gabarino and Stott (1989).

Whatever the technique used to interview children, and whatever the age or developmental stage they may be at, it seems the central responsibility of the researcher is to make the child feel at ease with the information-giving process. It should be a central skill of the researcher to design an environment where natural, or as close to natural, observations can be made. The research design should take into account where children feel at ease in giving information to adults.

It is fortunate for many pedagogical researchers that school environments are constantly interloped by adults seeking answers to questions. It would seem common in most Primary Classrooms that professionals such as Ofsted, Educational Psychologists and Speech and Language Therapists are more of a visible part of the school environment than ever before. At least for research purposes, it seems that children are used to being observed by visitors in school in one capacity or another and where children’s voices are being sought over some issue on a regular basis.

Conclusion

It seems that those parental opinions voiced in the playground or in lines at the local supermarket echoing dismay that school is ‘not what it used to be’ are correct on one level. Primary school environments today are more attuned to assessments being made and where adults conducting observations are more commonplace. Classrooms are regular hosts to a whole variety of adults making some evaluative judgments on one issue or another. Children are required to prove themselves in one academic discipline or another at all ages and where children are given numerous and onerous responsibilities in and out of a school environment.

Stress in our society is pervasive, it touches the lives of almost everyone and it would seem that age is no barrier to stress being present, even in the youngest of subjects. Therefore if we need to consider whether children are suitable subject for stress research, it would seem that there is no reason why a well structured, ethically sound study on stress levels amongst children could not be carried out in any primary school. Children, it would seem, are well equipped in the modern primary classroom to cope with the rigors of such scrutiny.

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