Schools guru throws ‘grit’ back in ministers’ faces

Government plan to teach children grit is flawed, suggests global education expert John Hattie

One of the world’s leading education experts has questioned the value of a key element of the government’s education strategy.

John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute and one of education’s most widely quoted academics, has raised doubts about the government’s decision to promote lessons in grit and determination as a complement to academic learning.

“You can’t teach grit generically,” Professor Hattie told TES. “Our criminals have more grit than most people.”

True grit

The education secretary, Nicky Morgan, has said that developing children’s character – including grit and resilience – is as important as teaching them to pass exams. But Professor Hattie insisted that this was not universally true.

“Some of our struggling learners have incredible grit in maths, and that’s their problem,” he said. “They do the same thing in every maths problem, and they need to get out of that habit.”

He added that grit differs from subject to subject: teaching pupils to take risks in history, for example, is very different from teaching them take risks in chemistry or maths.

He also highlighted the tendency among non-teachers – including policymakers – to underestimate the skill and knowledge that the job requires.

A good character

A Department for Education spokesman insisted that he did not accept Professor Hattie’s definition of grit, though he declined to offer an alternative definition.

“We want all young people to develop a range of character traits – like confidence, motivation and resilience – that will help them succeed in adult life in modern Britain,” he said.

John Hattie will be in London on 6 May, to speak about Visible Learning.


This is an edited version of an article in the 12 February edition of TES. Subscribers can view the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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