‘Intelligent learning’ boosts learning across eight subjects

Pupils who attend Thinking Schools, state schools where pupils and teachers use a shared ‘thinking language’ across all subjects, are showing outstanding results in the Government’s Progress 8 (P8) scores, which measure pupils’ progress across eight key subjects from the end of primary school to GCSEs at age 16.

Thinking Schools of all types recorded, over a three-year period 2016-2018, an average of over an extra whole GCSE grade growth across the eight subjects that are included in P8.

Two Thinking Schools, Glenmoor and Winton Academies in Bournemouth, were recently judged Outstanding by schools inspectorate Ofsted, with Glenmoor recording a P8 score of 1.03 and Winton a P8 of 0.6 for 2018.

The average P8 score is zero, so a positive score means pupils are making above average progress and a negative score means below average. 

Dr Dave Walters, Honorary University Fellow at the Exeter University Graduate School of Education, explains: ‘The findings demonstrate that in the 26 schools accredited by Exeter University as Thinking Schools, students are making outstanding progress compared with those with the same starting point attending schools that haven’t adopted the same approach.’

At the centre of the whole-school approach taken by Thinking Schools is the use of a ‘thinking language’ in each subject by every teacher and every pupil. Thinking Schools use visual tools that help transform information into knowledge. By ‘seeing’ their thinking structured and clarified, students become aware of the different thinking processes involved.  This leads to deeper learning and the development of higher-order thinking skills, such as analysing, evaluating and creating.

Children are also taught to develop intelligent learning behaviours (such as resilience and growth mindset).

The three-year average P8 score for schools registered with the University of Exeter as working to become an accredited Thinking School shows that they are recording two-thirds of an extra GCSE grade growth across the eight P8 subjects . Dr Walters says: ‘This shows that the those on the journey to becoming a Thinking School are already reaping the benefits of this type of whole-school learning.’

Dr Walters, a former secondary school deputy headteacher who now works with Thinking Matters, which supports schools working to become Thinking Schools,  added: The last three years have arguably been the most turbulent in secondary accountability measures since the 1988 Education Reform Act that saw the introduction of the National Curriculum. Thinking Schools have demonstrated huge resilience to these external accountability changes as these results show.’ 

While the process of calculating Progress 8 is complex, the main thing parents need to know is that a minus score (below 0) means the school is performing below the national average, a neutral score (0) means the school is performing at the national average, and a positive score (above 0) means the school is performing above the national average. The higher or lower the score, the better or worse a child's school is performing. 

While it would be foolish to say these P8 results are simply because they use thinking maps or study Habits of Mind. What’s clear is that by taking a whole-school approach to this type of learning works regardless of context because Thinking Schools range across academies, maintained schools and special schools.

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