Instilling Yorkshire Grit

Charles Ellison, Headmaster of Scarborough College, discusses why everyone should embrace their inner ‘grit’

Departure from my native Yorkshire for university in a previous millennium was carried out with carefree abandon and led to a blessed career to-date within educational roles across the UK and abroad, but never back home in God’s Own Country. The chance of a first headship on the Yorkshire coast at Scarborough College was therefore an enticing one.

Over the years, assimilating with the professional and cultural nuances of contrasting locations such as Madrid, Pangbourne, Nairobi and Guildford, one begins to tune-in a little more consciously to how the surroundings, local societal norms and customs, and above all attitudes, affect the ways in which children develop and learn. Thus, as a product myself, I was immediately struck by the obvious differences within my new northern context and situation: parents seemed very straight-talking (brutally so on occasion!), children seemed hardy and materialism seemed a little less evident. There were plenty of exceptions to this rule but on the whole I could sense levels of natural resilience, toughness, geographical connection, strength of character and determination that I hadn’t experienced to the same degree in other locations. Acknowledging this publically seemed akin to stereotyping, but it couldn’t be ignored. Instead, it excited me. Aren’t these the very attributes we independent schools are famous for, that every school desires from its experience and every parent from their investment?

Why aren’t we making the most of this positive genetic predisposition and how do we promote and nurture it further?

And so, the Yorkshire Grit course was born. The term derives from the sandstone of the area that has throughout time been used for grinding corn and for building houses and unforgiving factories. Its solidity, permanency and immovability have become synonymous with the character of Yorkshire folk. 

The caricature of the tough, plain-speaking Yorkshireman is known by all.

Yorkshire Grit involves pupils being taken off-timetable for a whole afternoon every week to engage in environments that will extend them beyond their comfort zones

Yorkshire Grit involves pupils being taken off-timetable for a whole afternoon every week to engage in environments that will extend them beyond their comfort zones and challenge them both mentally and physically. The research into the importance of grit to achievement in education is well-documented, so making it a timetabled lesson seemed very natural. Pupils spend their afternoons building rafts to sail across lakes, learning to surf in the North Sea, rock climbing, kick-boxing and understanding how to cope when the elements become extreme.


They are even thrown into public speaking, an environment feared most by  pupils. 

With the beautiful coastline on our doorstep and the North York Moors and Yorkshire Wolds at our backdoor, we are not short of inspiring external classrooms. It’s simply a case of exposing our children to the natural phenomena which created the values and virtues of their forefathers. These challenges are tempered by concurrent courses in mindfulness, stress-management and well-being to ensure our children understand the rapidly changing world around them, therefore allowing their innate Yorkshire Grit to evolve. We are arming them to cope with the strains of a world that looks very different to what I left behind when I finished my own Yorkshire education.

It is all too easy to apply a blueprint educational experience – be it prep, senior, boarding or day – but ultimately I feel sure that for pupils to grow and develop as fully as possible they need to be in-tune with the society and culture in which they learn on a day-to-day basis. A globalised world demands the attributes of cultural understanding and empathy. Furthermore, as the world races on at an ever-increasing pace it seems increasingly important that all children must have strong roots to help them to remain upstanding when life throws its worst in their direction.

Beyond the countless benefits this latest addition to our timetable has provided to our pupils, it has also established very firmly what is most important to us as a school: that pupils leave us judged on the people they have become during their time under our care and not simply on the certificates they hold in their hands.


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