Outstanding outcomes are achievable by all students

Outstanding outcomes are achievable by all students

In my last blog I set out the two 12 Characteristics of a Mary Ward School on which our community will focus this academic year: ‘Following in Christ’s footsteps’, about which I went in to further detail in the blog, and ‘Encouraging hard work and excellence’, which I outline this week, as promised.

As many of our parents will know, our Teaching & Learning focus in recent years has been on developing students’ growth mind-sets (believing intelligence is not fixed and can be increased). As a school we are consistently seeking to innovate to ensure that students are prepared to meet the ever changing challenges of the modern world, and our renewed determination to encourage hard work and excellence builds on the foundations laid to date.

There are numerous theories about how educators and parents can encourage hard work and excellence. These range from encouraging children to excel in what they are already good at and removing any barriers to achievement, to parents having high (not unrealistic) expectations of their children. Many such theories hold true and raise aspirations and achievement.

Our school is embracing High Performance Learning (HPL) this year, and instead of being yet another theory to take on board alongside other successful practices, HPL is an initiative that seeks to incorporate a range of different approaches – including developing growth mind-sets – into one framework for schools.

The founder of HPL, Professor Deborah Eyre, wanted to create a structure for learning excellence that would be flexible enough to work across different nationalities, cultures and jurisdictions, and yet be strong enough to have common parts to it that could be shared by schools across the world. She explains the structure using a scaffolding metaphor and, as we introduce HPL to St Mary’s School, Cambridge, we are developing our own HPL scaffolding, tailored to our students’ needs.

Dr Andy Flint – teacher of History and Politics – has joined us this academic year and will be taking the lead in supporting the school through the HPL accreditation process, and I am delighted to introduce Dr Flint here, as he, in turn, introduces HPL:

"High Performance Learning is a proven, research driven and pedagogy-led approach to education that is underpinned by the belief that high educational attainment is not only the reserve of gifted or innately talented students.

Outstanding outcomes are achievable by all students

Rejecting the belief that some students are naturally more intelligent, HPL works instead from the premise that, in a school that provides a challenging but nurturing environment, intelligence is a skill that can be learned and high performance is an attainable target for everyone, regardless of background or entry point."

There is a two year accreditation process for schools to become HPL accredited, and we look forward to HPL becoming an integral part of the learning DNA across all parts of our school community, supporting coherent progression from the Junior School to the Sixth Form. 

Dr Flint describes the way HPL will enhance learning through the initiative’s Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs) and Values, Attitudes, Attributes (VAAs):

"HPL identifies the generic characteristics and attributes that all students need in order to succeed in learning and categorises these into ACPs and VAAs. 

Students are already becoming familiar this term with these characteristics, through the recently launched 'Green Flag Learning' initiative, which will develop positive learning behaviours across the school ensuring that students are ready to learn – a fundamental tenet of HPL. Taking the ACPs and the VAAs in turn, some examples of the characteristics and attributes we are nurturing in the girls are as follows.

Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs) – thinking skills

  • Metacognition: reflecting on their own thinking, knowingly using a wide range of thinking approaches, and transferring knowledge from one circumstance to another.
  • Self-regulation: the ability to monitor, evaluate and self-correct.
  • Intellectual confidence: articulating personal views based on evidence.
  • Big picture thinking: working with big ideas and holistic concepts.
  • Analysis: critical or logical thinking; the ability to deduct, hypothesise and reason.
  • Complex and multi-step problem solving: the ability to break down a task, decide on a suitable approach and then act.
  • Intellectual playfulness: recognising rules and being able to bend them.

Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs)

  • Collaborative: seeking out opportunities to receive responses to work, to present their own ideas to others clearly and concisely and to listen to and act upon the views of others.
  • Resilience: overcoming setbacks and remaining confident, focused, flexible and optimistic.
  • Perseverance: being able to keep going, to face obstacles and difficulties but never give up.
  • Creative and enterprising: being open-minded and flexible in thought processes; demonstrating a willingness to innovate and invent new and multiple solutions to a problem or situation; adapting approaches according to need and being resourceful.
  • Enquiring: being curious, proactive and thinking independently."

The ACPs and VAAs as described above are the vital building blocks to creating higher cognitive performance and, supported by their teachers, all students will take ownership in the process of personally developing them. HPL is critically a learning process that is undertaken ‘with students’, rather than something that is done ‘to students’.

The girls will be empowered to take responsibility for their learning, to reflect upon their strengths and weaknesses as learners with regards to their cognitive performance, and to identify personalised targets for improvement.

Together, the attributes and values of HPL will support students’ academic progress at school, but also into Higher Education and beyond into the workplace. It will also help develop values that will help students become resilient and enterprising young people who are well placed to take on the demands of modern life with confidence, positivity, and a sincere concern for the wider global community. 

We believe that it can be a genuinely transformative approach, and I look forward to sharing more details of the HPL programme with you as the term progresses.