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Defining High Aspirations.

Updated: Jun 26, 2020

As a Former Strategic Advisor for Closing the Gap, I was often asked, “So What Works? “ And as a consortium we commissioned a study from IPSOS MORI on exactly this matter, imaginatively titled . . . “Closing the Gap, What Works”. Unsurprisingly, what has the greatest impact, is Leadership and teaching and learning. But more specifically the “mind-set” of staff and pupils actually has the biggest impact on pupil outcomes.

In coaching terms these are referred to as “limiting beliefs.” So, what indeed is a limiting belief? These are beliefs that an individual holds about themselves or other people in their surroundings. Such thoughts are literally stopping them form achieving their potential. The real challenge with limiting beliefs is that staff is unaware that we are harbouring these. These limiting beliefs become facts, and the reason why standards are poor. You may have heard some of these before?

“Well it is 9 set C. They are un-teachable.”

“Its easy for them! But our children won’t be able to do that!”

“Our pupils never do they homework, so how can we expect them to achieve? “

“Our pupils have no support from their parents.”

“We aren’t teaching, we are just dealing with behaviour here”

“My staff are very union minded.”

In Wales this phenomenon, of limiting beliefs in schools has many names attributed to it, and is often exasperated by the genuine and kind-hearted nature of teachers/leaders. This is referred to as “the Poor Dab syndrome” or the “Cwtch factor”. A poor dab is person who is down on their luck and needs looking after, whilst a Cwtch, pronounced cutch as in butch, is the welsh cuddle or hug.

Either way Teachers and school leaders often inadvertently put glass ceilings on their pupils due to their own low expectations.

As you may expect whilst the school may have mission statements, and websites that talk about high expectations, achievement for all etc. the real truth is that many of the staff and pupils are not living these values.


Another common issue is that an agreed definition of ‘High Aspirations’ does not exist within a school. The head teacher may give one response, a deputy head teacher a different response and the chair of the governing body yet another differing response.

So how as school leaders do we ensure that we have sufficiently high expectations of pupils and staff?

Defining Aspirations

Before going any further it is important that as a school we have a shared definition of what we consider to be sufficiently aspirational.

You could consider the following.

Possible questions to challenge staff in your school.

The Teaching Standards

Within the new Teaching Standards for Wales the overarching values and dispositions highlight the importance of all teachers and school leaders to have high aspirations and expectations for all pupils. Whilst they are explicit in the “Rights of the learner’s section” you can also see how high aspirations is central to all the other values.

Considering where high aspirations fit into the new teaching standards.

Because of the importance of the Teachers’ Standards in appraisal systems and pay progression it is vital that schools have a clear understanding of what these elements actually look like in their context. It is also important that staff understand how they can use their learning experiences to raise standards and the impact they have. For more activities to use with your staff as part of staff meetings , or performance management you may like to read:

Alternatively the Right Learning Company have worked with OLEVI in-order to develop a programme based on the OTP programme. This innovative new programme is based around the Sutton Trust and the principles of coaching and facilitation. If you would like to run this programme in your school, please get in touch.

For More information about how you can grow aspirations in your context - please get in touch .

you can ring the studio's on 02922 407733 or email us at

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