Leadership approaches, support and ideas from Bristol Brunel Academy

Tribal influence on achievement | The role of Tribes

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Tribal influence on achievement | The role of TribesInspire be inspired

Why thinking in tribes raises achievement of students…

Students do not immediately see themselves as part of a year or class within the Academy; they have a stronger identity with their social/peer or friendship group. We could describe these as tribes. These are relatively stable groups that have a set of values (not planned or imposed) that dictate what is the accepted behaviour, attitude and approach for that tribe. What is valued happens more often, what is not valued is seen less – hence tribes create an identity. If we think back to our time within school we can immediately relate to the tribes that existed within our Year group. There is real influential power on the individual exerted by these tribes. Parents often speak about their concern that their child would find the “right” friends – this was seen as more important than which Academy they attended – I think they are right.

Godin identifies that tribes form when there are…”connections between people, leaders, and ideas that are centered around a common goal or interest.”


Our peer group analysis of Year 11 identifies that student tribes range typically from around 6 to 15 students – almost all students can be identified as belonging to a peer group or tribe – collections of like and like-minded students who, through time, have acquired a collective identity. These groups are not purposefully constructed, but they are likely formed by a range of forces like social pressures, sport, appearance, historic proximity, chance, ability, primary school, geographic location, gender, ethnicity; all seem to combine to create fairly uniform groups. Individuals seek out and find similar individuals in a wider cohort.

How strong is the tribe on academic achievement? The present Year 11 tribes certainly appear to be linked to progress – in broad terms, the students in each tribe share similar progress/achievement rates, motivation and desire to learn – all influenced by the core values of the tribe. All of this is meaningless unless we use this identification and understanding of the power of tribes to work with this social structure, to influence and redirect the key drivers for each of our Year 11 tribes. Each tribe has a leader(s) – they are not voted in – they connect and link students together – they occupy alpha-roles developed over time. These are our levers are key influencers; who if we are able to re-direct have the influence to change what is valued by the tribe. These are the sneezers: those who spread ideas (contagiously) – who consistently reinforce the values of the tribe. At Brunel we have the:

  • Academically-positive tribes: value “doing well at school” see it as the key to the future. It is socially acceptable to do homework, revise, put you hand up in class. Progress actively reinforces and binds the tribe.
  • Academically-apathetic tribes: value a range of things one of which may be doing well at school. Often a range of abilities in the tribe – no overall social benefit to being good in class, or completing homework – the future will happen – apathy is ok. I suspect some do well and other do not – probably the key groups for Academy achievement and attainment.
  • Academically-negative tribes: do not attach a social value in being good or working hard within school. This is not a value supported by the tribe – no social cost to low effort in school – in fact the reverse is likely to be true.

Understanding and using the social dynamic is important for Brunel Culture, to raise achievement, build better relationships and create an academically-positive ethos, shared by the majority.

Here is a link to our raising achievement worksheet we use during our year 11 peer group intervention sessions:-  Year 11 RA Worksheet

Dr Dan Nicholls

Principal – Bristol Brunel Academy


Oct 2013


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