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University raises aspirations of local schoolchildren

Dr Sherria Hoskins

Dr Sherria Hoskins

An innovative project designed to raise academic achievement in Portsmouth schools has come to an end, and researchers are very pleased with the results.

The project, called Changing Mindsets, has successfully raised pupils’ resilience and attitude to learning, and could have advanced their performance by two months compared with other students. Also, for the first time in many years the year 5 pupils involved in the project went on to obtain Key Stage 2 attainment levels that reached the national target.

The University of Portsmouth worked with local schools to pilot techniques aimed at developing a ‘growth mindset’ in primary school pupils. Thirty-six primary and junior schools – predominately from Portsmouth –participated in the two year project, which started in January 2013.

The project was made possible thanks to the charity the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), who awarded the project £368,000 to raise the educational attainment of children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The University of Portsmouth was partnered with Portsmouth City Council, Pompey in the Community and Hampshire Education Business Partnership.

For the first time anywhere in the world, the teachers were also trained in growth mindset techniques in a bid to raise children’s sights and build their belief in their abilities. Teachers said that they felt empowered by the knowledge and had seen the impact in their pupils’ attitude to learning.

The project was underpinned by 20 years of research pioneered by the US psychologist, Carol Dweck, which found that children who are taught to believe that intelligence can be grown and developed, rather than that their intelligence is fixed, gain confidence in their abilities and achieve better results. They also then develop a ‘growth mindset’ enabling them to overcome difficulties in learning and persevere in the face of challenges that they might otherwise avoid.

Dr Sherria Hoskins, head of the department of psychology, led the study, the first of its kind in the UK. She said: “The programme will have a long legacy, since over 90 students who planned to become teachers were recruited and trained by the Growing Learners team. They will now take the mindset message with them into their future careers, to schools all over the UK.

“We also hope that the mindset message will make the pupils more resilient in all areas of their life, which would be the best possible outcome.”

In addition, the reputation of the programme led to the team being funded by the National College for Teaching and Leadership to roll their programme out across the UK. This led to the University team training a further 157 schools nationwide in the technique.

Julien Kramer, interim head of education at Portsmouth City Council, said: “We welcome and support initiatives which improve the educational attainment of our pupils. This research shows that adopting a growth mindset helps children by raising their aspirations and belief in their abilities, and has a positive impact on teaching.”

The programme is now being rolled out to local secondary schools and colleges, as well as looking at ways to spread the mindset message wider in the local community.

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