From education to employment

Will government grants develop grit in our young people?

Sally Dicketts is group chief executive of Active Learning

What makes some people give up at the first hurdle while others try, try and try again?

Grit, resilience, perseverance – whatever you call it, most would agree that it’s an important trait and something we should be doing more to develop in our young people.

It has now attracted government backing, in the shape of a £5m character grants scheme designed to produce a nation of “resilient, confident young people… ready to lead tomorrow’s Britain”.

As part of the scheme announced by Nicky Morgan this week, premiership rugby coaches will work with pupils in secondary schools to instil the sport’s values in the classroom. This will include learning how to bounce back from setbacks, how to show integrity in victory and defeat and to respect others.

I am already convinced of the importance of building character, resilience and grit in our young people. In fact we have developed our learning philosophy around it.

Too many young people have written themselves off because they didn’t do well in the academic environment of school. They believe they aren’t clever enough to be successful, when in actual fact they might just be lazy.

The brain is a muscle like any other, and it needs to be worked to grow and develop.

The problem is that you won’t exercise your body unless you have the motivation to do so, and you won’t exercise your brain if you can’t see the point.

I believe that further education colleges have a real role to play in helping young people increase their resilience through motivation. By placing learning in real commercial contexts students immediately see the value and impact of acquiring new knowledge and skills. Time and time again we have seen students grow in confidence and increase their focus as they switch on to the potential of learning. Where they previously struggled with delayed gratification, they can begin to see immediate results and their motivation grows.

The other essential element in the recipe for resilience is emotional security or emotional intelligence. It is a sad fact that we are the ones that limit our learning the most, and much of that is to do with how secure we feel in the learning environment. If we have struggled to learn in the past, our emotional roadblocks go up as soon as we enter familiar territory. Put simply, we don’t want to set ourselves up to fail.

Colleges and vocationally-led schools can do much to create new learning environments that enable young people to rediscover a love for learning. Teachers in these institutions have a responsibility to ensure students feel emotionally secure before gradually increasing levels of stretch and challenge. In this way students feel prepared to strike out, to try new things and to fail, before learning from those failures and trying again.

While I can’t argue with the value of building grit and resilience in pupils in schools, I am concerned that the new character grants are too piecemeal in their approach. To achieve sustainable results takes time and needs to be done in the context of trusting relationships. While sports coaches will no doubt create an inspirational kick-off, teachers themselves need coaching to be able to continue the work once they have returned to the sports field.

We know that true mastery of a new skill takes 10,000 hours of practice. That takes grit and resilience and teachers who are prepared to get alongside young people throughout the journey.

Sally Dicketts is group chief executive of Active Learning, an education group that includes Banbury and Bicester College, City of Oxford College and Reading College

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