Marina Gardiner Legge, Headteacher at Heathfield, a leading independent secondary boarding and day school in Ascot for girls aged 11-18, believes boarding schools can play an important role in developing ‘mental toughness’.
I wasn’t at all surprised to read that independent schools scored more highly in a recent survey measuring mental toughness. Often categorised as ‘grit’ or resilience, mental toughness is hard to define but teachers know when a child has it. It is about sticking at things, trying your best, overcoming obstacles and not being daunted by challenges or afraid of failure.
The research carried out under the direction of Professor Peter Clough of Manchester Metropolitan University defined mental toughness as the “mindset that every person adopts in everything they do” and measured the four key components identified as confidence, control, commitment and challenge.
This test gave an overall score of 4.26 to independent schools, higher than a figure of 3.94 recorded across state schools.
It may be that young people have more opportunities to flex their muscles in independent schools and have a wide range of opportunities to develop resilience, perseverance, leadership and the ability to think on their feet.
However, I believe that the boarding element is equally as important. Staff in boarding schools see children for 24 hours a day and character development is part of their remit. What happens outside the classroom is as important as what happens in lessons.
Living and working together teaches empathy, respect, independence and self-confidence. Outstanding pastoral care and a well-structured, age appropriate programme of extracurricular activities bring out the best in students.
Young people need to step out of their comfort zone and relish the challenge of living and working in a rapidly changing world. In the words of American psychologist Susan Jeffers, they need to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
About Marina Gardiner Legge
Marina was a boarding school girl who went on to Oxford to study English. Her first job was in marketing and advertising and she spent several years in Hong Kong where she taught disabled children to ride. She was so inspired by this experience that she decided to train as a teacher.
She taught English at Rutlish school in south west London and moved to Heathfield as Director of Studies where her role was to drive up academic standards. This year, Heathfield celebrated record examination results and has just been named in The Telegraph’s top 10 small independent schools by exam ranking. She became Head of Heathfield in 2016.