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Harnessing mental toughness


21 September 2021

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Penrhos College



In this fast-changing and increasingly complex world, Penrhos is proud to nurture positive rebels and change makers. We prepare girls with the confidence they need to stand up for themselves and for others – to collaborate and problem-solve, to innovate and drive positive change.


Research shows girls benefit from learning environments without traditional gender stereotypes, in which they develop the ‘mental toughness’ they need to achieve their personal best. Findings which are regularly released by the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia (AGSA) show girls feel able to behave in more competitive ways without social pressure from boys, to perform at higher levels in sport and physical education, and to become generally more confident and assertive. Girls-only education leads to higher academic achievement, greater diversity of subject choice and enhanced career progression. When education is tailored to their learning needs and preferences, there is no doubt that girls are empowered to reach their full potential.


Today’s young people are growing up through recession, pandemic and technological revolution. The challenges they face are real, complex and thought-provoking. It’s not surprising our students want to be stimulated to problem-solve in the context of impactful real-world projects – they want to have the mental toughness to act decisively. I particularly like the concept of ‘mental toughness’, which is explained by psychometrics consultancy AQR International as a mindset that is closely related to character, resilience, grit and learned optimism; it is also strongly correlated with performance, wellbeing, positive behaviours, aspirations and employability. Like a growth mindset, mental toughness can be nurtured, learned and developed over time.


Penrhos is committed to offering girls an early insight into the accessibility of further study and careers across the whole spectrum, including those areas which might be typically dominated by males. For example, the College participates in an annual Girls in Engineering Outreach Program with the University of Western Australia and Rio Tinto (whose new Chief Executive, Australia, Kellie Parker – coincidentally – is one of our very own Penrhos College alumni). The Program’s mine site visits include a range of mentor talks from female mining and mechatronics engineers, facilities managers, drill and blast operators, emergency services staff and environmental advisors – all help to illustrate the opportunity for girls to think beyond the conventional and to harness their mental toughness in pursuit of their career choices.


Beyond the classroom, further study options and career choices, the importance and value of mental toughness extends into almost every part of life – including individual and team sport, for example. Out on the playing field – regardless of experience or performance level – our girls routinely exercise their mental toughness in stretching beyond their comfort zones and challenging themselves (both physically and mentally) to achieve their personal best. With mental toughness comes consistent focus on positive behaviours, which in turn helps to influence the emotional control and confidence that are fundamental to personal wellbeing in every respect.


In a follow-up analysis published in June 2021, AQR International delved deeper into its original 2017 research, focusing on gender differences – particularly, it considered the mental toughness of girls attending all-girls schools compared with girls from co-educational schools. Overall, the analysis indicated that girls attending single-sex schools achieved higher mental toughness scores than girls attending co-educational schools, particularly for emotional control and confidence. Students at girls’ schools demonstrated greater commitment, greater life and emotional control, higher interpersonal confidence, and greater confidence in their own abilities.


There is no doubt that research on mental toughness shows significant links to higher academic attainment, increased motivation and enhanced educational outcomes — ‘which might explain’, writes AQR International, ‘why girls in girls’ schools typically do better academically than girls in coeducational schools’.


All things being equal, AQR says that international studies show ‘having higher levels of mental toughness confers an individual advantage’. Those with mental toughness are more effective at dealing with challenge, opportunity, stress and pressure – and they are less likely to be anxious or depressed. ‘Developing young people’s mental toughness’, concludes AQR’s 2021 report, ‘is an investment towards creating a more resilient future society that is capable of managing new challenges with a positive outlook’.


Penrhos is committed to nurture and inspire girls from the earliest age – to consistently demonstrate the connection between the classroom and the real world, so that our students may pursue their dreams with confidence. With mental toughness as part of our learning context, Penrhosians are encouraged to develop a positive mindset, a lateral perspective and the ability to independently and collaboratively problem-solve in preparation for their life journeys, whichever direction they may take.


AQR International. (2021, June). Soft skills development and gender: An analysis of mental toughness at UK independent schools. Chester, UK: AQR International. Retrieved from: https://gsa.uk.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/AQR-analysis-of-mental-toughness-in-girlsschools.pdf