Schools Failing to Build & Maintain Confidence and Positive Mindsets in Students

Leavers feel less happy, confident and supported than Year Nines

  • Exclusive polling for Demos’ Mind over Matter report reveals final-year students are half as likely to be happy in their lives than 14-year-olds, and considerably less likely to think their parents and teacher believe in them
  • They are also three times as likely to feel their school is only focused on preparing them for exams, rather than to succeed in life more generally
  • Polling also shows girls are much less likely than boys to feel happy and are more likely to experience feelings of frustration or give up on tasks when they fail
  • Report calls for Government, schools and third sector organisations to explore targeted interventions to instil ‘growth mindsets’ in young people inside and outside of school, to encourage the ambition and self-belief necessary for their success in education, work and society

A new report from Demos think tank, supported by Big Change, reveals that children are becoming increasingly less confident in their abilities and their capacity to succeed in life as they progress through schooling.

The report features important new findings from forthcoming research by Carol Dweck, Susana Claro and Dave Paunesku, which show that mindset can be as important a predictor of academic achievement as students’ socio-economic backgrounds[i].

Exclusive polling from Populus for the Mind over Matter report shows a steady decline in schoolchildren’s self-belief and resilience between the ages of 14 and 18, indicating that the UK’s education system is failing to maintain or cultivate these characteristics in students.

The report finds that, compared to 14-year-olds, final year students are:

  • Almost half as likely to be feeling happy in their life (33% vs. 60%), and considerably more likely to be feeling very unhappy (14% vs. 2%)
  • Three times more likely to think their school is preparing them to succeed only in exams, rather than in life (31% vs. 10.5%)
  • 24% more likely to feel like a failure if they don’t succeed at a task (68% vs. 46%)
  • Much more likely to feel their teachers (13% vs 5%) and parents (10% vs 1%) don’t think they’ll be successful

It also finds similar, worrying discrepancies between boys and girls, with female students less likely to report feeling happy (39% vs. 50%). and more likely to be prone to feeling like failures (68% to 49%).

Despite the poor findings for older and female students, the survey also provided some more heartening results amongst senior school students more broadly, with large numbers reporting surprisingly positive levels of ambition and confidence. In particular:

  • 88% of 14-18-year-olds overall think they can be successful in life, and 62% of students believe they will be more successful than their parents
  • 88% also reported feeling supported by the people around them to strive for what they want in life

The study was conducted as part of Demos and Big Change’s new Mind over Matter report, which brings together the latest UK and international research on ‘growth mindsets’. Children with ‘growth mindsets’ believe in their ability to learn and improve, equipping them to overcome setbacks or obstacles when they face them. By contrast, those with ‘fixed mindsets’ conclude that they will never be able to achieve certain things when faced with setbacks. The report argues that developing ‘growth mindsets’ could help improve education and employment outcomes, as well being as tool to enhance social mobility.

Mind over Matter also features case studies from on-the-ground research with three organisations implementing a growth mindset approach: Reclaim, a Manchester youth charity supporting natural leaders from working class backgrounds build their confidence and skills; The Camden Project, a Camden Council parenting intervention; and School21, a free school based on growth mindset principles. These case studies demonstrate the potential of both targeted and institutional growth mindset interventions to help pupils from deprived backgrounds to become more confident, engaged with learning, and ambitious.

The authors also conducted a series of interviews with high-profile community, business (Richard Branson, Virgin; Richard Reed, Innocent), sporting and political leaders (Ade Adepitan, Olympic Paralympian; Justin Packshaw, Explorer; Georgia Could, Camden Councillor), to gain a stronger understanding of the attributes and circumstances that encouraged their successes – and explore whether growth mindset theory could be applied to help individuals’ performances in workplaces, and their health and wellbeing. These interviews have been collated in a video, which will accompany the launch of the report.

Concluding that the evidence in favour of growth mindsets is sufficiently strong, the report recommends that the potential impact of different types of interventions should be explored within a UK context – particularly focusing on those from disadvantaged backgrounds. This could also involve exploring whether growth mindset methods could be threaded into Initial Teacher Training (ITT) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD).

Commenting on the report, its author, Louis Reynolds, said:

“This report shows that mindsets matter – they can hold us back or propel us forward to achieve more. This insight needs to be applied more systematically in our education system. Teachers, policy-makers and education experts increasingly agree that a young persons’ wellbeing, success in education and overall life outcomes are affected by much more than academic grades – including their character attributes, and their social and emotional skills. Our Mind over Matter report takes this one step further, demonstrating how mindsets can be cultivated and nurtured in the home, workplace and in education through innovative interventions. As the evidence base continues to build, it’s time to act to ensure that all young people, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds, have the opportunity to develop mindsets for growth, both inside and outside of education.”

Sam Branson, Founder of Big Change, said:

“I feel incredibly privileged to have been born into a family where growth mindset was ingrained into the way we were brought up. Big Change was established with an ambition to catalyse positive change for young people in the UK – to help them break out of negative cycles. Growth mindset is not a simple switch, but is a shift in the culture and support around young people – we all have a role to play in helping them to achieve this: from schools and teachers, to parents, the media, businesses and role models.”


Notes to Editors

Demos is Britain’s leading cross-party think tank. We are an independent, educational charity, which produces original and innovative research. Visit:

Big Change is a social innovation charity (founded by six friends, including Holly and Sam Branson) to catalyse positive change for young people in the UK by finding and supporting big ideas that can help young people thrive in life, not just exams. Visit:


Sophie Gaston, Press and Communications Manager, Demos
[email protected]
ph. 0207 367 6325 (Out of Hours: 07472745678)

[i] Forthcoming, unpublished research by Carol Dweck, Susana Claro and Dave Paunesku (2015), based on a sample size of all 10th grade students in public schools in Chile (over 168,000 students):  “In virtually all the schools in the sample – that’s more than 2000 – the very poorest students at the lowest decile of wealth who had growth mindsets were performing at the level of much wealthier students who had a fixed mindsets in the 80th percentile of wealth” – Carol Dweck