Research news

Completed projects

Character Education at Eton College

In 2018-19 the Tony Little Centre and Research Schools International carried out a research study on Character Education at Eton. This research study explored the following questions:

• Which character skills and dispositions are central to the Eton community?
• How is Eton supporting the development of these skills and dispositions?
• How can Eton further support the development of these skills and dispositions?
In the first phase of this project, we conducted a survey to identify the character skills and dispositions that are most central to the Eton community. We surveyed pupils, masters, some support staff, and dames, and explored how important they believe it is for Eton to promote a wide range of character skills and dispositions. In the second phase of the project, we conducted an academic literature review to identify research-based practices known to support the development of these skills and dispositions. Following this, we distributed a second survey to the Eton community, which was used to explore to what extent those research-based practices are currently implemented at Eton. Our study demonstrates that masters at Eton are skilfully employing many research-based practices known to support character education. In addition, our study identifies areas for growth in which masters can deepen their use of research-based practices to further promote the character skills and dispositions that are most central to their community. The full report can be read here.

Character Development through Community Engagement

In 2018-2019 we conducted a study which looked at the impact of community engagement (ECCE) on the character development of C Block boys. We adopted the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues framework and tried to identify whether students develop character virtues; namely empathy, openness to experience, teamwork, gratitude, and respect. We also looked into the challenges and opportunities the boys identified in ECCE and found not only a sense of individual development but also a sense of responsibility towards the community. Lastly, we discuss whether boys view such voluntary work as central to their education and to the Eton ethos.


Happiness at Eton College

In the 2016-17 academic year over 1,000 boys took part in a research project that CIRL conducted in collaboration with Research Schools International. This project looked at the relationships among boys’ wellbeing and their academic achievement across the whole school. The research did not find any correlation between wellbeing and academic success, but the data from the wellbeing surveys (answered by over 1,000 boys, with a fuller follow-up survey answered by just over 100 randomly-selected boys) showed some interesting results in wellbeing; namely, that boys’ life satisfaction and positive emotions increase during the time they are at Eton in terms of four trends:

1.                   social support, from friends and community
2.                   sense of autonomy, the freedom to make decisions about one’s life
3.                   gratitude, for diversity of opportunities at Eton
4.                   competence, the ability to do what one wants to achieve

Interestingly, autonomy, competence and relatedness (which includes social relatedness) are three key elements of intrinsic motivation.

These findings are particularly interesting because they run counter to trends nationally and internationally which generally show a decline in wellbeing in school years. The  full report gives more details about the responses that boys gave.

Read the full report here

Growth Mindset

During the 15-16 academic year, the Tony Little Centre worked with Research Schools International at the Harvard Graduate School of Education on cutting-edge research on growth mindset and prosocial attitudes. Following previous research by Dweck and others, we used a brief course on mindset theory to help students become more growth-minded in their thinking. We also took a step into new research territory by exploring the relationship between growth mindset and prosocial attitudes, which include a broad range of attitudes that support others, such as kindness and helpfulness.

First, researchers collected baseline data from 187 Etonians, who were divided into an experimental group and a control group. Eton teachers delivered the growth mindset course to students in the experimental group once a week over three weeks. Researchers collected follow-up data from the students in the experimental and control groups. When all the data was in, researchers analyzed the data using quantitative and qualitative methods. Results revealed that students who took the growth mindset course learned to be more growth-minded. On a series of questions measuring mindset, students who took the course gave more growth-minded responses after taking the course, on average, compared to students in the control group; this difference was statistically significant. This adds to the growing body of research suggesting that by just learning about the power of your own thinking and your brain’s ability to change, you can become a more growth-minded person. But the findings didn’t stop there.

We also found an intriguing connection between growth mindset and prosocial attitudes. Not only did we find a statistically significant relationship between students’ mindset scores and their prosocial attitude scores, but students who took the growth mindset course actually improved their prosocial attitudes. That is, the growth mindset course led to a statistically significant increase in students’ prosocial attitudes; we did not find a change in the control group. This shift toward prosocial attitudes was reflected in students’ short answer responses on the follow up survey as well. These findings are exploring uncharted territory, and more research is needed to better understand the relationship between students’ mindsets and prosocial attitudes. But this study provides insights into how we can support students to be both more successful and kinder, and we think that’s quite exciting!

Read the full  Eton-RSI report

Cognitive and psychological characteristics of consumers of novel psychoactive drugs

New psychoactive substances (NPS), particularly legal highs and cognitive enhancing drugs, look set to become major challenge for the education sector in coming years, in particular at university level. 
This research looked at what motivates young people to use such substances and while Eton’s pupils were not involved in the research in any way, the school co-funded the project, alongside the Wallitt Foundation. The work was conducted by a post-doctoral scientist within the MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge. A brief summary of the findings is given below, and will be presented at the CINP Conference (International College of Neuropsychopharmacology) in Vienna on 17th June 2018. 
‘Hot and cold’ cognition in users of novel psychoactive substances 
Objectives: Novel psychoactive substances (NPS) (formerly ‘legal highs’) refer to new drugs that are designed to mimic the effects of ‘classic’ drugs of abuse. Recent reports point to an increase in the availability, use and harmful effects of these substances, particularly in young adult men. We investigated the effects of NPS use on cognitive and social-emotional functioning in a non-clinical drug-using population. 

Methods: 30 males reporting frequent NPS use (at least twice a month in the last three months) without any psychiatric disorder including current or past alcohol or substance dependence were compared with 32 healthy drug-naïve males with low alcohol consumption on standardised neuropsychological measures from the CANTAB (‘cold’ cognition) and EMOTICOM (‘hot’ cognition) test batteries.

Results: The two groups were matched for basic demographic information including intelligence and years in education; alcohol and tobacco use; and trait measures of anxiety, depression, trauma and resilience. Types of NPS included hallucinogenics, depressants, stimulants and cannabinoids, with a high frequency of polydrug combinations. 

Conclusions: Frequent NPS users show significant cognitive impairments. The effects of different combinations of novel and illicit psychoactive substances and the severity of cognitive impairments in comparison with dependent users seeking treatment warrant further investigation.

Review article from the British Journal of Psychopharmacology