The GCSE Mindset

40 activities for transforming student commitment, motivation and productivity

By: Martin Griffin , Steve Oakes

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Size: 234 x 184mm
Pages : 248
ISBN : 9781785831843
Format: Paperback
Published: December 2017

The GCSE Mindset: 40 activities for transforming student commitment, motivation and productivity, written by Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin, offers a wealth of concrete, practical and applicable tools designed to supercharge GCSE students’ resilience, positivity, organisation and determination.

At a time when GCSE teaching can feel like a conveyor belt of micromanaged lessons and last-ditch interventions, Steve and Martin – acclaimed authors of The A Level Mindset – suggest a different approach, underpinned by their VESPA model of essential life skills: vision, effort, systems, practice and attitude.

These five non-cognitive characteristics beat cognition hands down as predictors of academic success, and in The GCSE Mindset Steve and Martin take this simple model as their starting point and present a user-friendly month-by-month programme of activities, resources and strategies that will help students break through barriers, build resilience, better manage their workload and ultimately release their potential – both in the classroom and beyond.

The book’s forty activities, while categorised thematically under the VESPA umbrella, have been sequenced chronologically by month in order to better chart the student’s journey through the academic year and to help them navigate the psychological terrain ahead. Each activity can be delivered one-to-one, to a tutor group or to a whole cohort, has been designed to take fifteen to twenty minutes to complete, and has been written with a pupil audience in mind. However, to complement the tasks’ practical utility, the authors also explore the underpinning research and theory – including the pioneering work of Angela Duckworth, Dr Steve Bull and Carol Dweck – in more detail in the introduction to each section.

Informed by the authors’ collective thirty-plus years of teaching and coaching, this essential handbook for GCSE success also suggests key coaching questions and interventions for use with pupils and includes expert guidance on how schools can implement and audit the core components and outcomes of the VESPA approach in their own settings. Additionally – and indeed pertinently in the present educational environment where empirical data is valued so highly – the book features a chapter dedicated to the measurement of mindset, written by guest contributors Dr Neil Dagnall and Dr Andrew Denovan from Manchester Metropolitan University. They present the twenty-eight-item VESPA questionnaire, which they helped Steve and Martin to design, and take the reader through the research process behind its origins before going on to describe how it can be used to identify areas for development and to measure the impact of interventions.

Suitable for teachers, tutors and parents who want to boost 14–16-year-olds’ academic outcomes and equip them with powerful tools and techniques in preparation for further education and employment.

Chapters include:

1. The VESPA Model: An Introduction to VESPA

2. Using This Book

3. September: Start with the Why

4. October: Mapping the Journey

5. November: Leading and Lagging Indicators

6. December: The Three Phases of Practice

7. January: Agency and Efficacy

8. February: Effort is Relative

9. March: Fight or Flight

10. April: Changing Lanes, Finding Flow

11. May: Well-Being and Stress Management

12. Coaching with VESPA

13. Implementation: Putting VESPA into Action

14. Measuring Mindset Using Psychometric Tests by Neil Dagnall and Andrew Denovan

The GCSE Mindset was a finalist in the 2019 Education Resources Awards in the education book award category.

Picture for author Martin Griffin

Martin Griffin

Martin Griffin has over 20 years’ experience teaching and coaching post-16 students. He was a Head of Sixth Form and Deputy Head at a successful comprehensive school for eight years, and has worked with hundreds of schools and colleges in the UK and beyond to design and implement study skills, character development and mindset programmes. 


Picture for author Steve Oakes

Steve Oakes

Steve Oakes has over 20 years' of experience as a teacher and leader, and has been a Head of Sixth Form at two successful schools in the UK and the UAE. As a current Head of Sixth Form, he works closely with students to maximise levels of engagement and commitment, designing high-impact interventions and practical tools for improving academic performance.


  1. I cannot recommend The GCSE Mindset enough. We read the book this summer, with a view to nurturing the tenacity of our pupils. We had struggled to bridge the gap between the theory of growth mindset/grit and its practical implementation. I had found from my earlier reading that research into this area had waxed lyrical about the importance of equipping our pupils with these skills, but yet the practical implementation was woolly. This was the first book I had read which seamlessly linked theory to application. The book clearly outlines the components of successful study: VESPA. It stages the year on a month-by-month basis and gives clear and practical activities. Most importantly for us, the activities are linked to research. The authors also dispel the myths around revision and outdated systems that schools use and share research about how we could best help our pupils.

    The book will be transformational for our school; it's helped us re-examine how we approach Year 11 support and intervention. It's given us the structure and support to implement real change. It's also challenged our thinking on the strategies we use within lessons to aid pupil progress. What we loved most about the book is how it had a moral thread throughout, aimed at helping pupils achieve a positive mindset, to establish lifelong learning habits. The activities transcend subjects and focus on the whole learner - looking not just within the GCSE context but helping pupils with their studies far beyond this. Not only has it helped reshape thinking in our school but it's helped us connect with other schools. We have used the book's strategies in our CPD with six other local schools and sixth forms. It's been instrumental in bringing us together and has placed teaching and learning at the heart of our conversations. This common approach will undoubtedly benefit our local community. We cannot recommend this book enough and are excited about our 2019 VESPA journey.
  2. The GCSE Mindset brings together many of the themes we have read about regarding -˜non-cognitive' skills in a practical way. It is innovative because it allows teachers to put in place a range of interventions without having to become experts in the latest educational theories - Steve and Martin have done this for them and the resources have been tried and tested in the field.

    The approach places young people at the heart of the process, encouraging them to understand their strengths and work to develop their capabilities. It is is hugely positive and supportive, promoting a culture of growth and academic resilience.

    Thus far the impact of the resource is most notable with our form tutors as they work to support young people through the routine grade checks and assessments during the school year. Tutors have been able to use the material in the book to deliver sessions in form periods and have found the activities easy to use and adapt to fit the time available. Form tutors like using the material and feel that they have access to a reliable coaching toolkit. They find the activities relevant and pupils are engaged in deciding what to do - they are happy to give feedback and say when they want to try a different exercise.

    The GCSE Mindset is a great stand-alone book and can certainly be used to build a school programme around, as the implementation section is particularly useful. The individual student reports and development plans give us a clear idea of where we can focus efforts across the curriculum. The package sits well with our character education programme and our aims to improve academic resilience - encouraging pupils to know themselves better, to think positively and to thrive.
  3. It's not rocket science, but it's still surprisingly rare - students who are deliberately trained to set good targets for themselves, not be afraid of hard work, be well organised and methodical, and have effective and varied study-habits, do better in their exams. And they are better prepared for learning beyond school. The GCSE Mindset tells us that even in the GCSE years it is not too late, or too difficult, to work on these habits. And it shows how busy teachers can do it - and get better results than ever.
  4. With so much pressure placed upon teachers and pupils to produce good results by the time they leave school at the age of 16, ensuring that everyone is focused and able to achieve their best can seem like a battle as the exam season looms.

    Combined with a mix of negative emotions - such as rejection, anxiety, anger and denial - young people can approach the looming exams in the wrong frame of mind. Yet supporting pupils with vision, effort, systems, practice, and attitude (VESPA), Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin have created a valuable collection of practical classroom activities that can turn any negativity and self-doubt into a realisation that they can achieve, if the VESPA model is applied.

    The subtitle to this book is no accident. The more discerning reader will have realised that there are (usually) 40 weeks in the UK school calendar - I know, it often seems much more than that - so the authors have carefully crafted activities that fit in with the educational year. Starting out in September, the VESPA model advocated throughout explores aspects of motivation, effort and attitude for students offering activities that can be used straight off the shelf. Subsequent months (and chapters) begin to map a journey for students to own, act upon, and achieve beyond the expectations they may have previously expected.

    Each activity is designed to take 15-20 minutes, and they can be used as a starting point, depending on the students you are working with. The book concludes concentrating on coaching and implementation of VESPA model offering a justification of the approach, along with supporting teachers to consider key questions that can help young people to reflect upon how they have got to this point, and how to achieve any future goals.

    This book is not a replication of Dweck's research, although the authors do encourage teachers to read and engage with. It's more than that. The authors have carefully considered practical, useful ideas that help students reflect upon their strengths, focus on what they need to do to achieve their aspirations, all laid out for the teacher to pick up and use, avoiding any further planning expectations. In a busy timetable, when would teachers use these activities? As the book has the activities set out through the school year, timetabling within tutor time each week would be achievable, and not demand extra from the teacher. If you are teaching pupils in the final years of their secondary schooling, then explore this book to give them the best possible opportunity to approach their exams in the most positive way.

    -‹Click here to read the full review on UKEdChat.
  5. A timely resource given the increasing interest in essential life skills and students' well-being, this well-written book provides a wide range of beneficial activities to help students achieve their full potential and develop lifelong learning capabilities.

    Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin have carefully drawn on research evidence and combined this with their extensive practical knowledge to create an informative guide for teachers, parents and GCSE students. With the pressurised and demanding education system we currently have, it is imperative that we support our young people to develop resilience and grit, and to manage and organise their learning effectively. The GCSE Mindset offers an excellent starting point for achieving this.
  6. In The GCSE Mindset Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin pose the question, -˜How can the theory be put into practice?' and, in the same accessible way as in The A Level Mindset, they show you exactly how to do just that.
  7. I have worked with over twenty sixth forms to introduce some of the ideas behind The A Level Mindset and we are now beginning to see its activities and approaches pay real dividends, so it was with great anticipation that I read The GCSE Mindset and considered how the previous approaches could be applied to students at Key Stage 4. What Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin do in this book is make sense of the research into areas such as meta-cognition and growth mindset and come up with a practical and no-nonsense approach to supporting students' learning through the GCSE years.

    As the authors point out, in too many schools our students have become -˜passive learners' in such a way that short-changes them and their progress. As a consequence, schools often fail to develop in students the skills and mindset they will need in their future academic and working lives. The focus of The GCSE Mindset, put very simply, is to tackle the question, -˜How do we make better learners?' and the authors provide a thorough and thought-provoking attempt at addressing this issue.

    Their VESPA system provides a clear umbrella under which schools can reflect on how they support student learning - so that rather than teachers pushing students, the students themselves develop their own approach to pull through their GCSE years. The authors provide a whole host of concise and practical activities that develop effective systems for learning, offer scaffolding for the setting of meaningful short- and long-term goals, and lay out what effective practice and revision really looks like. One of the changes from The A Level Mindset is to tackle the GCSE year on a month-by-month basis, tailoring activities to particular challenges and demands during this period. This is easily adapted to schools' own experiences and it aims to support student learning more effectively; so in the run-up to mock examinations, for example, the focus is upon practice and resilience.

    The activities themselves are brilliant, fun and engaging: each has a clear purpose, is easily adaptable to individual schools' needs, and will encourage students to reflect upon their own learning as well as equip them with essential skills for GCSE study.

    In the final two chapters the authors provide sound and practical advice on how schools can implement and tailor The GCSE Mindset's content to their own particular challenges, and the questionnaire at the end of the book provides a really good starting point from which to start the discussion about how we best support our learners, move them away from passivity and raise academic performance whilst at the same time equipping them for further study and the world of work.

    The GCSE Mindset is a really timely book that will help all schools facing the challenges of GCSEs' linear assessment and the huge demands in terms of content to be learnt and the sheer number of hours now spent focusing on examinations. If nothing else, it forces all schools to ask some very serious questions about how they deliver the GCSE programme to their students, and how they nurture the skills required for success and the coping strategies needed within a more stressful assessment culture.
  8. The GCSE Mindset builds ably on the best of its precursor, The A Level Mindset, which proved so popular with heads of sixth form. The depth and detail is both a strength and a challenge as it will take dedicated staff at Key Stage 4 time to digest it, but if they are keen to improve outcomes and build skills then they, and their students, will be rewarded with a richly supportive tutorial scheme that will have an impact on exam results.

    Year 10 and 11 assemblies, as well as tutorial time, have been waiting for The GCSE Mindset. This material is no fad and is here to stay for some time, as the thought and breadth of the book's practical strategies are the result of the wealth of research and talent of two experienced practitioners, Steve Oakes and Martin Griffin.

    Get yourself a copy - you won't be disappointed!
  9. The GCSE Mindset is an excellent book packed with a wide range of really practical activities and exercises. The authors have done a fantastic job of coherently pulling together a vast array of helpful tools and in doing so have compiled a comprehensive guide for teachers in their quest to support pupils striving for academic success.

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