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Pressure to perform

In the 2019-2020 administrative year, LAKS launched a new project: mapping performance pressure among Dutch high school students. In the 2020-2021 administrative year, major steps were then taken to raise awareness of this problem more broadly. Below you can read what the LAKS has done so far and what plans lie ahead for the coming year.

Performance pressure, what is it?

Performance pressure means that you experience a pressure to perform. This is not always negative: sometimes it can help you get started on something or get through your test week. In this way, performance pressure helps you motivate yourself. Performance pressure does become a problem if you experience the pressure all the time and not just temporarily during a test week or project. Unfortunately, there are many students who are constantly under pressure to perform and performance pressure becomes a problem. LAKS wants to do something about that! 

Exploratory research on performance pressure

The first step LAKS has taken to reduce performance pressure in Dutch education is to conduct an exploratory study. Together with research agency Onetwentyone, LAKS visited three schools during the 2019-2020 administrative year to conduct interviews with students on this topic. Through this exploratory research, LAKS was able to properly identify how achievement pressure is experienced by students and what factors play a role in it. In the 2020-2021 administrative year, there was also another group discussion on Corona effects on achievement pressure.

It turns out that students can experience achievement pressure anywhere, including, for example, at their side job or at the sports club. But students experience achievement pressure most strongly and most often at school. This is probably because students feel that their success at school is very decisive for their (future) success.

So school can create a lot of performance pressure for students. This is largely due to the emphasis on grades and tests, the amount of homework, student tracking systems such as Magister where parents can see everything, and unrealistic expectations and demotivating results. Moreover, when the pressure gets too high, students can fall into a stress cycle: the high pressure causes students to sleep poorly, which reduces their performance, which in turn increases the pressure even more.

Fortunately, education also offers factors that can reduce pressure, such as: helping students to have a goal and vision, helping to set realistic expectations, helping to plan and by giving recognition to students. In addition, it helps when there is a motivated atmosphere in the classroom.

If you want to read more about the results of the exploratory research, check out het onderzoeksrapport.

Education field conversations and a new survey

With the report in hand, LAKS urged the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science to conduct a larger-scale study of achievement pressure in secondary education. This research has now been completed and LAKS received the final report in September. In it, many things emerged that LAKS expected, such as: test culture plays a role in performance pressure, better LOB could reduce performance pressure, and delaying selection could help reduce pressure. In addition, the final report explored a number of policy options, which will now be further elaborated by the ministry. Once the ministry has published the final report, it will also be posted here so you can read the results for yourself. 

Meanwhile, the LAKS itself is not sitting still either. Links have been made between perceived performance pressure and the overstrained testing culture. About this, the LAKS recently wrote a opinion piece for NRC’s education blog.

Follow-up plans

The 2021-2022 board will obviously continue to address performance pressures, especially in conjunction with test culture. New developments will be shared here.

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