The Art of Building a Person

by Zazie Mackintosh

‘Ardvreck isn’t very academic.’ Or so I’ve been told.

In fact, our results speak for themselves: this year’s sixth formers have gained entry to ten different senior schools, including Eton College and St Mary’s School Ascot. But grades should not be the only measure of success. Straight A’s will only take a child so far; without strength of character, his or her academic brilliance has been built on shaky ground.

Let me share a true story*: in 1995, a young man named David Levin set up a primary school in the Bronx specifically for the children of some of New York’s poorest families; those who would typically struggle in school. For four years, his class of 38 pupils followed a special academic programme and then, at the age of 12-13, they sat an achievement test. The results were extraordinary: not only did these children achieve the highest scores of any school in the Bronx, they also ranked 5th highest out of all schools in New York City. The children made the front page of The New York Times; they were on TV; they were offered scholarships; and further down the line, every one of them won a place at college.

And yet only eight of the 38 graduated. What went wrong?

After some investigation, Levin made two interesting discoveries: firstly, those considered the most academically gifted in school were not necessarily the ones to graduate; and secondly, those who did graduate had some skills and attributes in common. For example, they could recover from a bad result and resolve to do better next time; they knew that if they worked hard, they could improve; and they were happy to ask for help when they needed it.

Levin discovered that while he had prepared his pupils academically, he had not prepared them either emotionally or psychologically. He consulted some of America’s top psychologists and together they came up with a list of seven strengths and skills needed for success: grit; self-control; zest (enthusiasm); social intelligence (ability to build relationships and manage social environments); gratitude; curiosity (eagerness to explore new things); and optimism (belief that effort will improve your future).

At Ardvreck, we excel at developing strength of character: not just in the classroom, but in the boarding houses and the music rooms, on the stage and the playing fields; up trees, under water and atop mountains; from the nursery to the sixth form. We don’t limit ourselves to providing an excellent academic education; but shape – and celebrate – the whole child. To paraphrase the Headmistress in her latest blog: success is not determined solely by what we know, but also by who we are.

* From How Children Succeed, Paul Tough.