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Exam preparation, Leadership, Learning, Uncategorized

Cognition v Character

I met both Steve and Martin at the PIXL6 meeting in London in September.  As I sat with a colleague listening to them speak I immediately made a link between contextual priorities that we have as a school and the issues that they had faced – the same issues that prompted them to undertake the research that informed their book The A Level mindset.

When they first spoke they asked us to list our top 10 factors that caused 6th form students to underachieve.  We duly obliged and created our list.  The next step was to group the factors into those that were based around cognition and those that were based around character traits.  All of ours fitted into the character traits……. this didn’t seem to surprise Martin & Steve, even though it was a moment of clarity for us.  6th form achievement is an issue that we have been wrestling with and the clarity that Martin & Steve had been able to bring to our thinking in a few short minutes was surprising!


The appeal of their approach and information was based around the fact they they spoke from a position of authority – both having lived and faced the same problems that we felt we are facing currently.  We were able to identify with their findings about the inconsistencies of just using GCSE prior attainment as a sole indicator for future A Level performance.  This data set is useful for target setting but used in isolation does not help support students to achieve targets, it is the actions that they take that actually supports the achievement.

After their session myself and my colleague had a long conversation with Steve and Martin who kindly agreed to let me repost some content explaining the foundations of their thinking from their website (http://www.alevelmindset.com) here:

The 5 Elements of The A Level Mindset

We think there are five key elements to success at A level. And more importantly, that these five elements can be learned. They are not gifts or genetic quirks handed down to lucky people. They that lead to success that we call the A Level Mindset.

Together, we call them VESPA. Each is as important as the other. Here they are:

V = Vision

How well do you know what you want to achieve?

E = Effort

How many hours of independent work do you do per week?

S = Systems

How do you organise your learning and time?

P = Practice

What kind of work do you do to practice your skills?

A = Attitude

How do you respond to setbacks?

That’s it. It looks pretty simple in those terms, but it’s the distillation of years of careful observations! As you think about your answers, you’ll perhaps already start to see where you feel strong, and where you need to improve.

If success is an equation, by the way, the equation isn’t this:

V + E + S + P + A = success.

It’s this:

V x E x S x P x A = success.

Since we realised this, and we started teaching students these five skills, we’ve seen more and more students get better and better grades. Our students outperform most other students in the country. Students get into better universities and get better jobs and we’ve been rated as one of the best school sixth forms in the country. Our students aren’t any more intelligent than the students that came before them. Instead, they have begun to learn a series of behaviours and thought processes. 

We have started to make use of this approach with out existing 6th form students and have found the student workbook a really useful resource to make use of:

If you are working in a 6th form where the outcomes being achieved are not what you would hope for and you feel that the teaching is strong then maybe it might be worth trying making use of this student book!



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