Wednesday 24th August

ABT as important as ABC?

What makes the difference?

It’s always invigorating and rewarding to meet with an educational establishment that is trying to address the gap between those who thrive and those who don’t; those who realsie their potential and those who don't. Empowering, enabling and equipping our young people with core capabilities is more essential than ever, if they are to thrive in the ever-changing environment in which they will live and work. Today's meeting prompted me to voice what seems like straightforward common sense to those of us sat round the table. These educationalists recognise the gap and together we’re addressing it but, sadly, they are still in the minority. There is still far too much time, energy, effort and cost spent on systems, procedures and expensive inteterventions that up a grade or two but don't make a real, sustainable difference. 

Knowledge and skills are important but they don’t make the difference. That is clear to all of us who have worked with people of all ages across different fields of endeavour. It’s Attitudes, Behaviours and Thinking that make the difference. Developing appropriate Attitudes, Beahviours and Thinking not only develops rounded, employable, enterprising young people, it is essential to raise the attainment of those who are not achieving their educational potential. 

ABT (Attitudes – Behaviours – Thinking)

are just as important as 

ABC (Knowledge and Skills)

How many more young people need to fail – not because of academic inability but because of failure to develop the appropriate attitudes, behaviours and thinking to succeed in learning and beyond? They aren’t in the right environment or don’t pick up these postive traits by osmosis, as we tend to expect.

In some of our most disadvantaged, deprived areas this failure costs millions each year for educational establishments with young people ‘dropping out’ (or leaving by one means or another), specialist provision across many public services, the criminal justice system etc.

And this is nothing to the human cost of young people who are limited, unable to fulfill their potential and not believing they are worthy or capable of success. Even more costly, in both human and economic terms, are those living with mental health challenges, or being manipulated in directions they don’t want to go, or channeling their frustration and using their ‘bright’ minds in illegal activity, rather than making the contribution they could make. Doesn't it make sense to spend more on prevention rather than the average £140,000 a year it costs to keep someone in prison?

From a young age people have reinforced low aspiration and can't do mentaility with some of our young people - they’re shy, they’re naughty, they’re no good at this or that, people like us don’t do things like that etc. They have been told to have confidence, be assertive, believe in themselves, don’t be passive, don’t be aggressive, or ‘sort your attitude out’. But they haven’t been told what is meant by that, or how to do it. People have subtly or not so subtly limited their ambition, achievement and attainment with the all-pervading ‘tall poppy syndrome’* and the low expectations that surround them.  

It’s not just those facing disadvantage that suffer from us not focusing on holistically developing our young people. A first class degree or elite sports skills don’t mean that you ‘make it’ in your field. Your attitudes, behaviours and thinking give you the essential belief, positive thinking, interpersonal skills, growth mindset, persistence, resilience, employability, enterprise capability, capacity to manage stress etc. to make the most of opportunities: to achieve and maintain wellbeing in all areas of life. You can't teach these in the way you teach knowledge and skills but you can rigorously, systematically enable young people to develop them.

What are we doing to nurture and systematically develop in our young people the attitudes, behaviours and thinking essential to succeed in learning and life?

* Australian slang for the tendency to criticise highly successful people (i.e., tall poppies), and 'cut them down'.  The tall poppy syndrome is a culture where people of high status are resented, attacked, cut down or criticised because they have been classified as better than their peers.

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Beverley Burton - interview about her book, 'How Can We Equip Our Children to Succeed?'