Criticising Dominic Cummings’ ‘genetic’ claims

Last Saturday I couldn’t help noticing the reported claim by the government’s special adviser Dominic Cummings that genetics play a major role in educational achievement.

I was immediately struck by the notion that some young people may be written off for life.

That is a theory that is totally contrary to the work we do at Tougher Minds, using the latest understanding of neuroscience and psychology to teach school pupils and adults mental skills like concentration, motivation and confidence. If Dominic Cummings ideas have been reported correctly, then he believes some young people are effectively pre-programmed to fail. In fact, our research and work shows that when our methods are used consistently, anybody can achieve better results and improve their academic performance.

For me, it is always nurture rather than nature that is important when it comes to getting good results. This theory is also consistently underlined by the success I experience with professional sportspeople and major businesses via the Tougher Minds programmes.

By creating the right environment, in which pupils can consistently use the methods we have developed to improve concentration, motivation, confidence and attention, any educational institution can drive up achievement and improve grades.

The latest understanding of neuroscience shows the human brain is designed for life-long learning so the notion that young people are destined to underachieve is just not right.

In The Guardian, Cummings is quoted as saying: “There is strong resistance across the political spectrum to accepting scientific evidence on genetics.

“Most of those that now dominate discussions on issues such as social mobility entirely ignore genetics and therefore their arguments are at best misleading and often worthless.”

Cummings has also reportedly claimed that some research shows that as much as 70% of a child’s performance is genetically derived.

Tougher Minds in a positive environment

As you might know if you have followed this blog, a group of pupils from Colfe’s School in South-East London school registered an average improvement of three-quarters of a grade per GCSE subject between January and June 2013.

This converts to pupils moving from A to A* and in this specific case only three pupils did not receive either an A or an A*. The improved results came amid a widely recognised stiffening of standards by exam boards and a national backdrop of grade deflation. The improvement was credited to the Tougher Minds training by teachers.

The other 72 pupils in the year group who did not receive the training registered an improvement of just below two-thirds of a grade.

I would urge Dominic Cummings to think again and seek to understand how developing the right skills and learning how to learn can be the difference between success and failure.

It’s not down to genetics.

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