Department of Education

Conceptions of effort among Year 8 students, their teachers and parents at a school in Somerset

Research Team: Andy Stables and Kyoko Murakami
Funder: British Academy
Date of completion: ongoing


The 12 month exploratory qualitative study aims to understand different conceptions and perceptions of effort held by Year 8 students, their teachers and parents. It investigates the ways in which school grading policy and guidelines inform the assessment of effort; to help develop teachers' capacities to design appropriate assessment strategies for effort.

It remains common practice for students in the lower years of English secondary schools to be awarded grades for 'effort' alongside those for 'achievement'. However, what the relevant actors conceive of as 'effort' has not been sufficiently researched.

Effort has not been a major concern for psychologists for some time, and there has been little philosophical interest in the topic. However, the previous research has produced some interesting findings that serve to challenge unthinking acceptance of effort as an assessment focus in schools. If effort is construed in terms of physiological arousal or time spent on a task, then too much is counterproductive, and it is associated with anxiety rather than achievement. Attributing student failure to lack of effort may be counterproductive, leading students to conclude that they 'don't know how to make an effort'. In sum, the study will provide evidence for the questions: Does effort grading matter? Are teachers, students and parents 'talking the same language' in relation to effort in school?

The study's desired effects include a more nuanced, sensitive and effective approach by schools to the issue of effort and its possible assessment (and thereby its potential educational benefits), and awareness raising for all parties.