In some of the top performing British International schools in the world, we see significant numbers of staffi who do not believe that high performance is attainable for the vast majorityii of their students.Indeed, in a recent survey, nearly 60% of staff felt that there are students in their classrooms who are not capable of high performance (Figure 1), despite the overall school performance being consistently good, achieving over 60% A*-A grades at IGCSE. This doubt in students’ ability is likely to cause these schools to plateau; they will not further improve on these scores if staff believe they are already doing the best possible.
Unfortunately, this belief around student ability is a common but misguided one. It stems from amistaken view that intelligence is partly inherited so, whatever teachers do, some students are destined to fail. Our research found that over70% of staff believe student intelligence is partly inherited. Not only that, this figure does not alter with the length of a teacher’s career, suggesting that they will begin and leave their career with the same misconception. Teachers’ classroom expectations around what is possible are shaped by these beliefs.
We know from a growing body of research that this belief is outdated and incorrect; intelligence is one of the least inheritable traits as it has no obvious genetic linkiii. Throughout a child’s lifetime, as a result of their experiences, changes to DNA occur and it is these that determine a child’s skill development and intelligencelevels.Other myths such as the incorrect assumption that you cannot achieve in a subject because your parents werenot very good at it, is also damaging. It is these views, held by teachers and parents, that contribute to the self-doubt that holds many students back.
When surveying the studentsi in these top performing international schools, we found that over 40% do not themselves believe they can get good grades;a surprisingly high percentage. Furthermore, nearly 65% of students, like their teachers, do not believe everyone is capable of good grades. It is these doubts in themselves and others that hold students back from achieving high levels of performance and we urgently need to challenge misconceptions if we want more students to reach success.
High Performance Learning (HPL) accredited schools commit to believing and behaving as if all students are capable of high achievement. They signal this to students and their families and use the HPL framework to strengthen teaching and learning, intentionally and overtly building the competencies that create academic and personal success. They set themselves a level of expectation that is much more ambitious than in the past regarding the art of what is possible and the percentage of their students who could leave having demonstrated high attainment.
Schools that become accredited HPL World Class Schools by joining the HPL Award Scheme really do see this change of mindset impacting on student outcomes and they see it quickly. Results increase year on year with a greater percentage achieving the top grades every year and overall scores going up. Indeed, the percentage of students achieving top grades has increased, on average, by 8% in schools during the two-year Award Scheme, and continues to increase annually as the school deepens its engagement. These figures compare very favourably with statistics for the UK national average which has remained constant (Figure 3).
But what really excites schools leaders about HPL is not just the results, it is the positive and optimistic culture that they feel in their school and how students and staff embrace the challenges of learning without fear. This translates into schools where everyone is focused on building success in each individual student, regardless of their starting point.
Doha College, a top performing international school, is one of many of our schools to announce exceptional examination results this year.
2019 recorded the best IGCSE results in the school’s 39-year history. The Principal of Doha College, Dr Sommer, commented:
“As the first accredited HPL school, we are now looking back at the best public examination results ever achieved at the College for the third year running, not to mention the immensely positive impact on the culture of the school, the relationships among and between students, staff and parents. Now that the intrinsic features of the philosophy have pervaded all areas of the school, we are confident that generations of Doha College students will benefit in the years to come.”
The expectation that every student is capable of high performance, regardless of their background, is a vision that every school can embrace, and our accredited World Class Schools are exemplifying a future for education that is inclusive of everyone and routinely delivers high performance without pressure.
Dr. Rebecca Glass,