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Does ‘Grit’ impact on children’s GCSE scores?

Lauren and Louise with their GCSEs

Personality characteristics – especially conscientiousness - have been shown to have a significant but moderate influence on academic achievement. However our study showed that ‘grit’, defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, adds little to prediction of school achievement.

So what is Grit?

Grit has been identified by education policy-makers as a target for teaching to pupils. But what is it? Grit is described as a ‘non-cognitive’ trait (i.e. psychological factors, emotional factors, social factors) and is often used interchangeably with persistence, perseverance and extreme stamina (effort). Items on a scale measuring Grit include: ‘Setbacks don’t discourage me’ (perseverance) and ‘I have a difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete’ (consistency of interest).

How small is small?

The study, which used a representative sample of 4,500 TEDS twins at 16, found that aspects of personality predicted around six per cent of the differences between GCSE results and, after controlling for these characteristics, grit alone only predicted 0.5 per cent of the differences between GCSE results.

Grit is moderately heritable

In addition to measuring the association between grit and academic achievement, the study also analysed the extent to which grit is ‘heritable’ (i.e. the extent to which genes contribute to differences between people in their levels of grit). The study found that grit was about as heritable as other personality traits, with DNA differences explaining around a third of the differences between children in levels of grit.

If grit adds little to the prediction of GCSE results, should we be teaching it to children in schools?

Until now there has been very little evidence about the origins of differences between children in grit and its influence on academic achievement, despite the fact that it plays an important role in UK and US education policies. Our research shows that grit only explains a very small amount of the differences between children’s GCSE results yet, just because it adds little to the prediction of GCSE results, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is not valuable – children may benefit in other ways. However more research needs to be done before making any conclusions.

Listen to Kaili, the study’s first author, talk about her research: