Talking Head

Headmaster's blog at Newcastle School for Boys

September 11, 2018

Application is key

Not without a certain amount of trepidation in the run-up, results days are hopefully a highlight of the school year for most Headteachers. Days in August when the School buildings, which have been quiet for weeks, are suddenly populated by anxious pupils accompanied, where permitted, by parents, who are often even more anxious.

It can be a nerve-wracking time for those pupils, their parents and teachers. Thankfully, as was the case again this year, our boys do very well and go on to pursue their ambitions and access the next stages of their education.

The longer I do this job and the more pupils I see collect public exam results, the more convinced I become that the single biggest determinant in pupils’ success is their effort.

Of course, it has to be the right effort applied in the right ways and to the right areas. Painting the ceiling in my study doesn’t make me a better Headmaster however hard I might try to recreate the Sistine Chapel.

More often than not, the ways in which pupils’ efforts need to be applied can be identified from their teachers’ feedback although the most effective learners will have their own insight into what they need to do next to make further progress.

Crucially, the effort also needs to be sustained. There can be a tendency for some pupils to give up if their efforts don’t bring immediate progress and results.

Where does that effort come from? Ideally, it is an intrinsic part of a student’s motivation.  Where that motivation is not present, it either needs to be inspired or compelled.  Naturally, the former is more desirable, effective and less painful for all concerned but can’t always be guaranteed.

Ability, talent and flair are not irrelevant factors in achievement, but they are not the overall single biggest determinant of success.

How much effort? I would go as far as to say that the effort thresholds should be set at 20 hours’ study per week above lesson time to be successful as a sixth form student and 10 hours per week at GCSE.

It was Winston Churchill who said, ‘Success comes from sustained effort rather than from talent or ability’.