Student survey reveals ‘bottleneck mindset’ at GCSE

Girls’ Day School Trust annual conference tackles ‘the heart and craft of teaching’ while CEO speaks of girls’ ‘inner critics’

In his speech at The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) Annual Conference in London today, Director of Innovation & Learning, Dr Kevin Stannard will present the findings of the first GDST Student Survey, which asked almost 12,000 students ages nine to 18 ‘What makes a great teacher?’ 

Bringing together heads, chairmen of governors, trustees and senior staff from the GDST’s 24 schools, two academies and head office, the theme of this year’s GDST Annual Conference is ‘The heart and craft of teaching’. 

Delegates will also hear from Professor Guy Claxton, emeritus Professor of the Learning Sciences at the University of Winchester, Professor Alison Cook-Sather, Professor of Education at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges in the USA and a panel of GDST heads and students – all of whom will address the issue of what makes great teaching. 

The influence of the battery of external exams at age 16 effectively amounts to a distracting factor that forces students into a ‘learned helplessness’ that can involve a great deal of additional anxiety

Dr Kevin Stannard will say: “Students in key stage three tend to carry with them, from the later primary years, an appreciation of teachers who challenge them and give them scope to make choices and be independent. This happens again in the sixth form, with an additional focus on teaching that enthuses and inspires. But there appears to be a change of focus in years 10 and 11.

“In key stage four, this ‘bottleneck’ is reflected in the greater relative importance that students place on [teacher] qualities like not pressuring them and understanding the pressures they are under. ‘Toolbox’ qualities – teachers who control the classroom, give good notes and structure lessons well – are also ascribed much greater importance at this stage of a student’s school career.”

Dr Stannard will highlight key findings from the survey including: 43% of students said ‘interaction between teachers and students’ is what makes a great teacher; 45% of students identified art, drama, music or PE as the subject they most look forward to.

He will highlight the impact of GCSEs on student mindsets and the ‘pressure valve’ that creative subjects like art, music and drama can provide: “The influence of the battery of external exams at age 16 effectively amounts to a distracting factor that forces students into a ‘learned helplessness’ that can involve a great deal of additional anxiety. Encouragingly, the survey also indicates that participating in subjects that could be classified as ‘alternatives’ to the largely sedentary academic subjects – art, performing arts, music and PE – can mitigate the effects of the bottleneck.”

Kevin Stannard and Helen Fraser

In her speech, outgoing CEO Helen Fraser will say that schools should encourage girls to be risk takers and not ‘good girls’, helping them to challenge their ‘inner critic’ with an ‘inner cheerleader’.

Ms Fraser, who retires from her post at the GDST at the end of August, is concerned that girls perform exceptionally at all levels of education but go on to earn less than men and occupy fewer senior positions. 

She will say: ‘Too many women are in thrall to their inner critic.

‘When I first started making mental links between what happens inside schools and what happens to young women in the workplace, the first thing that I talked about was the need for young women to speak out at work, to be heard, to claim their successes – not just to sit quietly doing brilliant working and hoping someone might notice.’ 

Cheryl Giovannoni has been appointed as Ms Fraser’s successor, taking up her post on 1 September. Ms Giovannoni says: ‘It has been a long-held ambition to help women achieve their true potential, and the GDST is a fitting place for me to continue to do what I can to inspire future generations of girls to be their very best.’


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