Pupil confidence high as research shows independent schools' focus on mental toughness

Posted on: 18 Jan 2017

Pupils in independent schools are controlled, committed, confident and like a challenge, new research into soft skills and mental toughness reveals.

  • Pupil confidence high as research shows independent schools' focus on mental toughness
  • Findings to enable schools to target and boost pupil wellbeing

Pupils in independent schools are controlled, committed, confident and like a challenge, new research into soft skills and mental toughness reveals.

The quantitative research by leading psychometric test publisher AQR International shows pupils at ISC independent schools have good attainment, wellbeing and behaviour and are more resilient, better at dealing with setbacks and more open to learning as a result.

Using a mental toughness model called MTQ48, the study - An Analysis of Mental Toughness at UK Independent Schools - included 9,000 pupils of all ages from 58 schools in England and Scotland.

This test, which defines mental toughness as the 'mindset that every person adopts in everything they do' gave an overall score of 4.26, higher than a figure of 3.94 recorded across state schools.

Set across four categories - the 4Cs - the highest score was recorded in confidence (4.47), a result also seen in state schools (4.49). While scoring lower, control (4.16), commitment (4.34) and challenge (4.19) were all higher than in state school pupils*, significantly so for commitment and challenge.

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*Results from 32,000 state school pupils taken from data held by AQR


  • Life control - I really believe I can do it. I believe that I am in control of much of what determines my ability to do things.
  • Emotional control - I can manage my emotions and the emotions of others.


  • Goal setting - I promise to do it. I like working to goals and will set goals for myself.
  • Achieving - I'll do what it takes to keep my promises and achieve my goals.


  • Risk taking - I will stretch myself and welcome new situations. I am not frightened of new things.
  • Learning from experience - even setbacks are opportunities for learning and I will try again if I have not succeeded the first time.


  • In abilities - I believe I have the ability to do it, or can acquire the ability. I have less need for validation from others.
  • Interpersonal confidence - I can influence and engage with others. I can stand my ground if needed. I will ask questions of others.

As well as the overall aggregated scores across all participating schools, each will be able to use their individual results to help plan which areas could be focused on more in the future.

With a greater spotlight being shone on mental health and wellbeing in schools of all types, the data and intelligence gathered in this study will put schools in an excellent position to be able to focus all work in these areas with greater knowledge, accuracy and detail.

Mark Mortimer, Headmaster of Warminster School, a day and boarding co-educational school in Wiltshire, which took part in the study, said: "I strongly believe that what happens outside the classroom is as important as what happens inside. Of course, exam results matter, but not as much as the qualities that allow pupils to leave school able to thrive, both professionally and personally, in the fluid, ever-changing and let-go world of the 21st century. Emotional intelligence, reaction to failure, leadership, perseverance, resilience and the ability to improvise and adapt on one's feet are increasingly important."

Peter Clough, Professor of Applied Psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, who moderated the process and analysis of the research, said: "This is, I believe, an important piece of work. Participating schools are to be congratulated for contributing to a large scale study embracing almost 10,000 pupils which seeks to assess and evidence what is happening with the development of what are now recognised as important life skills in schools.

"The results are both interesting and valuable. Using the 4Cs mental toughness model, we gain useful insights as well as signposting where attention could be usefully directed. Importantly the data is of use to all who are involved in the education and development of young people."

Julie Robinson, General Secretary of ISC, said: "A year after research showed independent schools add significant academic value, it is encouraging to see this is also the case with soft skills and mental toughness.

"Whilst the study does not seek to answer exactly why this is so, it does provide useful and meaningful comparisons. Many independent schools will feel that it is the breadth of curriculum, wide-ranging activities outside the classroom and excellent pastoral care which help create resilient and worldly young men and women who are ready for further study and work in adult life."

Ed Holmes, ISC | ed.holmes@isc.co.uk | 020 7766 7062
Doug Strycharczyk, AQR International | doug@aqr.co.uk | 01244 572050