Spotlight on: High Performance Learning

What is HPL?

HPL, or High Performance Learning, is a framework of teaching that has been developed based on research into the way children learn. It reflects on what is known about advanced thinking skills and learning behaviours to help us build 'better brains'. Excellent schools are effective in securing exceptional academic standards, but should also aim to nurture pupils who can think for themselves and who are socially confident.

St Mary’s School, Cambridge has always strived to develop well rounded individuals who are confident both socially and academically, who show concern for others and who are prepared for the challenges of life in the outside world. We fully understand that success is not limited to examination results. For us, successful pupils are those who not only achieve academic excellence but who also develop a much wider set of values and attitudes that are at the heart of our ethos.

Research in neuroscience has shown that there is not a fixed level of ability amongst young learners, and that the brain is much more malleable than was once thought. HPL is an exciting approach to Teaching & Learning that uses these research findings to develop a style of learning that removes barriers that stop children achieving, through granting them the opportunity to develop intelligence in their own time.

How are we doing this at St Mary’s Junior School, Cambridge?

The teachers at the Junior School provide the right opportunities for children to develop their cognitive skills and specific attributes and values needed for 'high performance learning'. We are using teaching methods that are intrinsic to HPL: teachers have been asking ‘big questions’ that have required the girls to brainstorm in groups, looking at the ‘bigger picture’ and thinking creatively. We also continue to promote the ‘growth mind-set’ philosophy, which is part of HPL, and which teaches pupils that making mistakes is a constructive part of learning and something that we continue to encounter throughout life.

HPL also places emphasis on target setting: sharing the children’s next steps in the learning process to encourage them to reflect on the progress they have made and take responsibility for their future growth. This approach is not completely new to us, but we will continue to place more emphasis on the girls’ skills and values development, and aim to share progress more explicitly with pupils and parents.  

For HPL to be successful it must be reflected in our school’s personal vision and must be completely embedded in the school’s philosophy, which is why our teachers, pupils and parents must be fully committed to the aims. As with any change, it is sensible to have a gradual implementation, so, with HPL in mind, Junior School teachers have begun to plan lessons which focus on HPL’s Advanced Cognitive Performance characteristics (ACPs). 

We have been incorporating ACPs into day-to-day life in the classroom, as well as hosting assemblies to ensure the girls are aware of what they mean. One of the ways we have been familiarising the girls with the ACPs is through asking them to represent some of the different thinking skills by giving them animal characteristics, such as Macey the Monkey, who is creative and thinks of alternative ideas, and Sylvie the Swan, who is a quick thinker and is always ready to get started. Through these subtle techniques the girls are becoming more aware of the cognitive skills that they are already good at, and those where improvement is needed.

Working alongside the ACPs are the Values, Attitudes and Attributes (VAAs) required for learning excellence. Values in Teaching & Learning have always been important at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, which is why we will continue to encourage our girls to be empathetic and have concern for global society, further encourage their open mindedness and continue to instill confidence and perseverance throughout our employment of HPL.  

The Future of HPL at our Junior School

As HPL will be embedded into the school over a period of time our teachers, pupils and parents will be involved in the journey, and considered along the way, to ensure that it is a manageable process carried out effectively. We hope that it is an initiative that parents and children will get excited about as it is an endeavor to further improve on a style of teaching that we are already incorporating, built on the premise that learning should be fun and should create individuals who are ready for the world outside of school.

For more information about HPL, please attend the dedicated parent INSET evening on Thursday 25 January, from 7.00pm to 8.00pm, or contact Head of Juniors, Mr Matthew O’Reilly.