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Why building confidence can benefit learners and help them to achieve

Rea Gill Rea Gill Mental Fitness Research Assistant at Fika

Contrary to popular belief, confidence is not something we’re born with; it’s a skill to be mastered, an art to be perfected over years of learning. However, many still think that it’s a fixed characteristic – that if someone is low on confidence, it’s just not their strength. Yet, we absolutely can, and should, work on our confidence, and the benefits for learners can be invaluable. 

The links between confidence and achieving in education 

Studies have shown that learners with higher confidence are more willing to learn, challenge themselves, and have better resilience in the face of difficult transitions like changing schools. In fact, confidence has been quoted as the number one predictor of academic achievement. This is particularly true for core subjects such as English, maths and science, where confidence has long-term, positive effects on learners’ success.  

These benefits persist through school and college and into university, where learners with high confidence are more likely to attend, continue to achieve, and build a strong sense of belonging with their peers. 

Confidence is also a big factor in keeping learners engaged with their education and the world around them. We know that by increasing confidence, you’re allowing the learner to believe they have the potential to achieve and reduce their fear of failing. This motivates them to attend school or college regularly, have better focus during classes, and complete coursework and exams to the best of their ability. 

Ultimately, confidence increases learners’ employability, as it not only gives them a more competitive academic background but also the confidence to apply their knowledge in new situations in the workplace. This is especially important for female-identifying students, who are 50% less likely to consider themselves as highly employable. 

Increased confidence also combats stress, burnout and depression across different cultures and social groups, benefiting learners across the full spectrum of cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. On the whole, we need to be building confidence in all learners to help them reach their full potential in education, but also in their future careers. 

Confidence as a key skill of mental fitness 

So how do we go about building confidence efficiently in our learners? By teaching the right actions. 

Completing carefully designed, confidence-targeted exercises can increase confidence in underachieving learners, whilst enhancing the performance of higher achievers. In studies where this has been done successfully, learners’ grades improved by 50% and retention improved by 20%, showing how effective confidence training is in an educational context. 

As part of a Foundation Year of Mental Fitness, Fika and NCFE have partnered to deliver an evidence-based intervention in mental fitness to 69 FE colleges across the UK. The mental fitness curriculum comprises 7 skills trained at key times of the academic year: connection, confidence, motivation, positivity, stress, focus and meaning.  

Learners using Fika first trained in the ‘connection’ skill to facilitate a positive return to face-to-face learning. ‘Confidence’ was identified as the second skill to focus on to increase learners’ confidence after the initial rush back to the classroom, helping to prepare for the upcoming January assessment period. In this time, 17,870 FE learners completed over 25,000 confidence exercises, equating to 2,080 hours of learning.  

By spending as little as 5 minutes a day on confidence-building actions, such as ‘power posing’ or guided visualisation exercises, confidence scores amongst learners were increased by 14%. 

A learner at one FE college told us: “It’s made me more confident to speak to people if I need help. I’ve found it very helpful for dealing with assignments when I’ve got a busy workload, as I can get it done without rushing it. You need to be in good shape mentally to deal with academic challenges!” 

To find out more about our partnership and how we’re building mental fitness in Further Education, visit our Fika webpage

References 

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17(6), 391-394. Can personality be changed? The role of beliefs in personality and change. 

Stankov, L. (2013). Noncognitive predictors of intelligence and academic achievement: An important role of confidence. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 727-732. Noncognitive predictors of intelligence and academic achievement: An important role of confidence. 

Stankov, L., Morony, S., & Lee, Y. P. (2014). Confidence: The best non-cognitive predictor of academic achievement? Educational Psychology, 34(1), 9-28. Confidence: The best non-cognitive predictor of academic achievement? 

Sinclair, A. J. (2017). Enhancing students’ confidence in employability skills through the practice of “Recall, Adapt and Apply”. Higher Education Studies, 7(3), 55-63. Enhancing Students' Confidence in Employability Skills through the Practice of “Recall, Adapt and Apply”. 

Donovan, C., & Erskine-Shaw, M. (2019). ‘Maybe I can do this. Maybe I should be here’: Evaluating an academic literacy, resilience and confidence programme. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 44(3), 326-340. 'Maybe I can do this. Maybe I should be here': Evaluating an academic literacy, resilience and confidence programme. 

Quenani, E., MacDougall, N., & Sexton, C. (2014). An empirical study of self-perceived employability: Improving the prospects for student employment success in an uncertain environment. Active Learning in Higher Education, 15(3), 199-213. An empirical study of self- perceived employability: Improving the prospects for student employment success in an uncertain environment. 

Compte, O., & Postlewaite, A. (2004). Confidence-enhanced performance. American Economic Review, 94(5), 1536-1557. Confidence-enhanced performance. 

Li, J., Han, X., Wang, W., Sun, G., & Cheng, Z. (2018). How social support influences university students’ academic achievement and emotional exhaustion: The mediating role of self-esteem. Learning and Individual Differences, 61, 120-126. How social support influences university students' academic achievement and emotional exhaustion: The mediating role of self-esteem. 

Hwang, M., Choi, H. C., Lee, A., Hee, B., Choi, C., Culver, J. D., & Hutchison, B. (2015). The relationship between self-efficacy and academic achievement: A 5-year panel analysis. The Asia-Pacific Education Researcher, 24(1), 89-98. The relationship between self-efficacy and academic achievement: A 5-year panel analysis. 

Harackiewicz, J. M., Canning, E. A., Tibbetts, Y., Giffen, C. J., Blair, S. S., Rouse, D. I., & Hyde, J. S. (2014). Closing the social class achievement gap for first-generation students in undergraduate biology. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(2), 375-389. Closing the social class achievement gap for first-generation students in undergraduate biology. 

Ultimately, confidence increases learners’ employability, as not only does it give them a more competitive academic background, but also the confidence to apply their knowledge in new situations in the workplace.

Rea Gill, Mental Fitness Research Assistant at Fika
Fika Middlesbrough College Web
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