Sarah Wilson, is Headmistress at Heathfield, a leading independent secondary boarding and day school in Ascot for girls aged 11-18. Here she discusses ‘attitude’ and its impact on achievement and life chances.

Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology described ‘attitude’ as an individual's predisposed state of mind…  a responsive expression towards something, which in turn influences the individual's thought and action’.  It is something over which we have an influence.

Attitude is such a crucial attribute for students – it determines how they react to adversity, their ability to grow and learn, overcome challenges and create bonds with others.  It has an important role to play in defining a student’s destiny – how well they perform in school, in the working world and on a purely personal level, so it’s important that they understand that they have control over it.

The old adage ‘stay positive and good things will happen’ doesn’t always stand up to the test – there is much more to it than that.  It’s vital that we help students understand the influence of their attitude, how responding and viewing things in the right way can positively impact their future and success - not just in exams, but in all areas of their lives.

Some students arrive at school with incredible baseline measures but unless they have the right attitude their predicted grades cannot be guaranteed. Likewise, students with apparently lower predictions can achieve well beyond what this data suggests. Students are so much more than data. They need to understand that the effort they apply and their attitude is a far greater predictor of success than their IQ.  A young person who is positive, has a sense of humour, knows when to laugh something off, and when to ‘think big’, has an attitude that will get them much further and is a far better indicator for success.

And similarly, the attitude of the school is important. Choosing a school that values each individual, finds each pupil’s aptitudes and supports them in areas in which they need help is important too. All young people need to experience that enthusiasm and inspiration at school and have access to positive role models.  It’s crucial to feel valued and to value other people and to see these attitudes in action. Celebrating 90% in a test will always make a student feel good but it’s typically momentary. Celebrating effort is much more enduring - recognising  you worked hard, tried a new strategy and learnt something that you can take forward is much  more satisfying.

In a school with pupils from a diverse range of backgrounds, there is a big mix of attitudes that can influence students. School is about giving them the self-belief and confidence to raise their aspirations, to personally determine where in life they wish to go and to grab the opportunities open to them.

Confidence is vital, but as we know, it’s not always going to be ‘plain sailing’ – there will be times when students will have to face adversity and challenge and will need the resilience to keep going when things get tough. They need the attitude to keep going, knowing that if they do, they will be ok. They can do it. Likewise, they must foster the attitude to consider others, choose to be kind and empathetic to their peers, support one another and learn that being part of a team can result in performing significantly better than is possible on their own.

We give our students planned opportunities to develop determination and tenacity. Opportunities to try a host of new things - even if they don’t think they are going to be successful - and to understand that failure can be part of the process towards success. We encourage them to reflect on their own values, how they fit with those of their friends and community and to consider how they sit with what they want to do in later life. School is such an instrumental time for children to find out about themselves, to determine their own personal values and to move on into the big wide world with confidence.  This is how they develop their own attitude.

We empower our students with a sense of independence – they are in control and responsible for their own actions. Their success is not determined by their friends or their future employers, it is up to them. Students with the right attitude will recognise that if they put in the effort they will go far. 

I always remember a quiet Year 8 pupil who was, on paper, academically middle of the road. But she had an amazing attitude. Half way through the first term she decided she wanted to become a vet and she went for it!  Her positive attitude shone through, she quietly and determinedly got stuck into everything, even if it didn’t come naturally. Debating, drama, sport, academic enrichment…she just kept going.  As time went on, she started to rise above her peers. She is now studying Veterinary Medicine at University having secured a place with 3 A*s, far exceeding what the data suggested. More importantly, she is still friends with her school peers and has made the most of all of her opportunities.  I know she will go far. She has the right attitude.

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