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In the Senior School, we have been tracking student effort for the last five terms. We are not only learning more about our students through this, but also more about the complex anatomy of effort itself.

Whilst teachers award a grade for effort based on set descriptors, within any grade for effort, there may also be a reflection of a student’s conscientiousness, confidence, curiosity and courage. In some instances, I also allow myself (and others) to see character in effort, and I wonder that if I can successfully convince the students to see the same, whether some – perhaps those who need to most – would be more motivated to show greater effort and care toward their learning, knowing that, in this, they may also be revealing their character.

As mentioned, the anatomy of effort is complex. Importantly, we see our students as unique individuals and the stories behind their grades are equally unique and individual. We are especially mindful in our tracking of effort of students with both learning and wellbeing needs – both of which we acknowledge are a result of circumstances out of the young person’s control, and both require (and receive) our support.

We have seen character in effort over the past two weeks both in and out of the classroom, including in the outstanding student performances in Intercol and national competitions – performances, indeed, soaked in effortful training and spirit. It was noteworthy that in Jack Cowin’s inspirational presentation to students last week, none of his 13 lessons for a successful life referred to outright academic attainment, and all could be said to exist in or around the realms of applying a best effort.

Shifting the focus from attainment to effort ensures that the systemic value is placed on the underlying characteristics of a successful student rather than the outcomes themselves. From experience, this is beneficial for students’ wellbeing, engagement and motivation in their learning. Effort grades have provided Mentors with deeper insights into their students’ application and progress in the classroom, prompting more effective discussion around the data, and leading to positive change. Our school psychologists speak about the effort grade data ‘telling a story’, allowing pastoral carers to have focused conversations that can expose other factors affecting a student’s engagement, such as family issues or other external influences.

My final consideration is the role that we play as parents in our children’s effort grades. How much of ‘us’ is in their grades? And, in this, I don’t mean how much in terms of nature (our genes) but how much in terms of nurture (our parenting). In his book, How Children Succeed, Paul Tough writes, ‘Character strengths that matter so much to young people’s success are not innate; they don’t appear in us magically, as a result of good luck or good genes. And they are not simply a choice. They are rooted in brain chemistry, and they are molded, in measurable and predictable ways, by the environment in which children grow up’.

Your son’s effort grades are available to view on his Learning Curve. Please join us in paying attention to your son’s effort in school and at home, knowing that whatever we pay attention to has the capacity to transform. Effort can become a habit and – just like the pursuit of excellence rather than excellence itself – is accessible to most, if not all, with the right support.

We look forward to supporting your son to show his best efforts in the terms ahead. For now, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a restful break.

Marcus Blackburn
Deputy Headmaster / Head of Senior School