toughness – they are on the journey to develop this and to acquire the life skills that an adult would possess. Studies show that in adolescence average mental toughness scores tend to range between 3.90 and 4.25. These scores are more significant than this. One of the most important potential benefits is

examination performance (as well as wellbeing and behaviour). During this study, Austin Friars pupils achieved

an outstanding set of GCSE results with 46% of all grades at A* or A equivalent. 17% of the “new” GCSEs were awarded Grade 9, compared to a posted national average in UK of 4.3%. The School does not narrowly select on the

basis of ability, and we are therefore, delighted that our high achievers and pupils across our broad ability range have achieved such superb results with 94% of all grades at A* – C or equivalent.

Academic attainment is important and so is

preparing young people to use their abilities outside the school when they move on to the next stages of their lives.

How did you implement it? We assessed very pupil in the school, at the start of the 2017 academic year and at its end. We also assessed all staff at the start partly for their own development purposes and partly so that they understood better what the pupils were experiencing. It was important to bring staff on board too. The exercise was carried out with AQR

International who carried out the ISC study. The initial results in September 2017 showed

that pupils at Austin Friars appeared to develop levels of Mental Toughness during their time at the school to a level which would place them in the upper quartile of the ISC study at the point of completing their secondary education. A more significant question was; “Can we

evidence that pupils at Austin Friars develop the mental toughness and, by implication, their life skills during each Academic year and can Austin Friars use this information to improve even those initial assessments?” As a result, all pupils who completed the

MTQ48 measure were re-assessed at the end of the academic year to examine whether there was a change in mental toughness which could be attributed to their experience at Austin Friars.

How did the pupils respond to the test? Pupil response was generally positive. Pupils are used to completing tests and questionnaires so that aspect didn’t concern them. The data generated about each pupil and each

year group was valuable. We were able to make use of the information as part of the armoury of information we have about pupils. We avoided making it a specific issue.

How have the school and students benefited from it? The first question we had to find an answer to was “Austin Friars believes it does a lot to develop life skills in our pupils. Can we evidence that?” Initial analysis of the results confirms that,

generally, the average mental toughness of a pupil increased from a score of 4.31 to an

November 2018

average score of 4.75. Impressive in its own right, this level of mental toughness would place Austin Friars in the top 10% of schools in the Independent Schools survey. Austin Friars is a non-selective school and so

each year’s intake can be quite different in term of academic ability. The challenge for any school is to make the most of the abilities that the pupils possess. Year by year analysis showed:


7 8 9

10 11 12 13

Sept 2017 May/June Difference 2018

3.85 4.35 4.26 4.56 3.88 4.39 4.76

Whole School 4.31

4.13 4.49 5.43 5.47 3.86 5.15 4.66


0.28 0.14 1.17 0.91

- 0.02 0.76

- 0.10 0.44 The School has a programme of events with

each year group which are designed to develop pupil life skills. We can see that the School has made a positive difference throughout the life of a pupil in the school. The apparent minor (and they are very minor) negative changes in two of the years coincide with the fact that these are the two years where pupils sit key national and international examinations – GCSEs and A’ levels. In other words; these are the pressure years. AQR International tell us that it’s not unusual to see more significant reverses in confidence and commitment in these circumstances and it’s a positive sign that the School has prepared pupils for these pressures and when they are applied, that pupils do not respond negatively. Adding some context to the results; the global

norm for an adult is a score of 5.5. We do not expect adolescents to have this level of mental 17

How have staff and parents responded to the implementation? Staff generally have responded very well. It is, of course, important to show staff how this adds to, and complements, what they are doing. We ran two INSET days at the beginning of the exercise and 12 months later, when the level of interest and response to this programme was surprisingly different and obvious. Parents have been kept informed through

updates in newsletters etc., and again the response has been excellent. It is, of course, addressing a key parental concern. As awareness of what we were doing has grown, we have also found that we increased significantly the number of pupils who enrolled during the year. What would you say to other schools thinking

about a similar implementation? AQR International observed that “it is

courageous of the School to examine itself in this way – it’s strong evidence of a true desire for continuous improvement across all fronts”. Lots of schools and organisations make claims

about what they can or will do but don’t always measure it. It is about investing in improving what you do

too. The School looked at the initial results, which were impressive in themselves, and used that information to work out how to do things “even better”. It’s difficult to improve anything without reliable data. Ultimately, it is a well evidenced approach to

school improvement which builds on what most schools already do – it is not prescriptive in any way.

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