Critically exploring the implementation of growth mindset in a primary school, using bioecological systems theory
: An ethnographic study

  • Richard Baron

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Growth mindset approaches in education have become commonplace within primary schools across the United Kingdom (Foliano et al., 2019). The function of growth mindset is to have an impact on a pupil’s belief system, regarding the malleability of their intelligence, with the aim of improving educational attainment and resilience. As such, growth mindset has become a desirable psychological construct within primary schools. Much of the research covering growth mindset is quantitative and does not examine why or how it is being used in schools, nor has research explored its implementation in schools over a
prolonged period (more than three months). Qualitative evaluations on the implementation of growth mindset have been short-term and have identified some common characteristics of growth mindset approaches, such as celebrating mistake making and the use of process praise. However, the qualitative research that has been conducted is limited in its critical analysis of the intervention and fails to account for the wider socio-cultural factors that may impact a child’s academic performance or why a school may decide to implement a growth
mindset approach. As such, this critical research seeks to explore how growth mindset was implemented in a primary school in the North-West of England through the lens of Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) ecological systems theory. The overall aim of the research was to understand the conditions with which teachers use growth mindset, exploring how and why they use it and identifying any factors that may have an impact on their implementation of this intervention. Data was collected over a period of one year using ethnography in a
reception and nursery within a primary school. Ethnography was chosen as it provided an opportunity to observe how growth mindset was implemented, allowing space for nuance to be observed. Interviews and focus groups were also conducted with staff members across 6 the school. Following this in-depth method of data collection, the interviews and focus groups were transcribed and were analysed using thematic analysis alongside the ethnographic observational notes. The findings provide insight into why schools use growth
mindset, with teachers explaining that growth mindset can help children be good citizens and independent learners even if their home environment is not conducive to this. Findings also highlight the significant role of external meso factors in the successful implementation of growth mindset, that social deprivation must be considered when implementing it and successful implementation requires a whole-school approach, particularly regarding
organisational leadership. This research is, therefore, important because it uses qualitative, in-depth data collection methods to show that wider socio-cultural factors need to be considered when setting up and implementing a socio-cognitive educational theory in a school setting.
Date of Award21 Apr 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBarry Percy-Smith (Main Supervisor) & Lynda Turner (Co-Supervisor)

Cite this