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OUR PUBLICATIONS > Everyone Starts with an ‘A’

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Everyone Starts with an ‘A’

October 1, 2014

Authors: Nathalie Spencer, Jonathan Rowson and Louise Bamfield

Institution: RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) Action and Research Centre

Full reference: Spencer, N., Rowson, J., & Bamfield, L. (2014). Everyone Starts with an ‘A’: Applying behavioural insight to narrow the socioeconomic attainment gap in education. London, the UK: RSA Action and Research Centre


The report explores unconventional ways of influencing pupils’ motivation, learning enjoyment and performance at school, applying behavioural insight to educational practice and providing practical tips to facilitate connecting theory to real-life classroom practice. It aims at provoking wider discussion on behavioural insight and current teaching practices.

PISA results and educational disadvantage are addressed briefly, but the main focus of the report are three behavioural insights and their role and influence: mindsets, cognitive biases and surroundings. ‘Growth mindset’ (belief that academic ability is expandable through practice and effort) instead of ‘fixed mindset’ is recommended, and teachers are advised to praise pupils for effort and the learning process instead of ability and the outcome. Several cognitive biases are discussed, such as the tendency to overvalue first impressions and first pieces of information, or our tendency to look for and focus on information that supports our pre-existing beliefs. The tendency to feel the pain of a loss more intensively than the pleasure of an equal gain, is also used to support the suggestion for teachers to offer rewards and incentives prior to the actual performance, under the condition that these will be taken away if certain standards are not achieved, and to support the ‘everyone starts with an A’ approach to teaching. Some cues in pupils’ surroundings and the effect on their performance are presented: these include priming with cues of intelligence or high grades and their positive impact on pupils’ performance, or exposure to lack of greenery and signs of poverty and their negative impact.

The main tips for teachers are also summarised in a poster and a simplified handout.

Read the report here (in English).

The German version of the report is available here.