This week, The Secret Teacher argues that equipping pupils with an ‘emotional toolkit’ will build their character while having a positive impact on attainment.

The aim of the game is to make them feel safe in the classroom, and the more comfortable they are in the classroom the more likely they are to learn. The more they learn the more they’re going to do well. The path to attainment has to be based on nurture, and sincere relationships.

It should not be based on fear, which you find at a lot of schools in affluent areas. It’s ‘must get an A or you are nothing’ in effect, whereas in the best schools in the country, which are the ones that are far down the league tables, the focus is on building your character so that you have the resilience and the courage and the discipline to be aspirational, to try and get the qualification that you need to get into your college course.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It’s not as if I rage against attainment, I want attainment in the right context. I want sincere attainment, and at affluent schools there’s too much insincere attainment, where they are taught to the exam and become exam machines.


In my experience, in affluent schools a lot of kids get into university very quickly, but because they don’t have the interpersonal or social skills and all they’re taught in school is how to pass an exam, they can’t phone a taxi, they can’t book a table at a restaurant. They don’t know how to speak publicly. These are basic, fundamental things that come with a more rounded, holistic education.

Because they’ve been taught that you need to power through regardless and sacrifice everything to pass your exams, their expectation going into the big, bad world is that if they do feel mentally vulnerable that they have to charge through. That’s how you break yourself. That’s a recipe for depression. I can hear the criticism that I’m being a ‘woke snowflake’ and that I need to toughen up these kids for the big, bad world, but I just don’t see it that way.

Show the kids that it’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to not know anything. How did we have a culture of education where teachers would shout ‘how do you not already know this’?

Your job is to help them know it, so if they don’t know it, teach them it.

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