High Performance Learning at St Swithun's
St Swithun's is committed to providing a world class education to its students, and thus the very best foundation in life that it can. We have therefore adopted the High Performance Learning framework. and joined the international network of HPL schools. In 2023 we were reaccredited as a High Performance Learning World Class School.
The High Performance Learning philosophy is that: high achievement is an attainable target for everyone; intelligence is not fixed (we can all become cleverer); high performers are made, not born (they work for it).
High Performance Learning involves the systematic and explicit encouragement and empowerment of students to develop the ways of thinking and ways of behaving that will equip them for success both in school and beyond. Ways of thinking include finding connections, strategy planning, problem-solving, and thinking flexibly. Ways of behaving, which enable our students to flourish amid the increasing demands of our global world, include taking risks, persevering, being open-minded and collaborative. Although some children naturally acquire the thinking skills, values, attitudes and attributes needed for lifetime success, many do not. That is why we teach these skills and behaviours explicitly.
Years of research, from across cognitive psychology, education and neuroscience, have identified the thinking skills and values that high performers have in common. There are 20 generic characteristics which students need to develop if they are to be high performers in cognitive domains (thinking).
In addition to the 20 thinking skills, students also need to develop 10 values, attitudes and attributes that develop the wider learner dispositions needed for cognitive and lifetime success.
It is these thinking skills and values and behaviours that we seek to teach and embed, so that our students become enterprising learners, ready for university, for the world of work and for life.
We teach our students that with deliberate practice and hard work, everyone can improve.
People might ask, for example, how you become good at maths? It is not true that some people are ‘naturally’ good at maths. Some students have worked harder already on learning maths; some have enjoyed it more, so that they have practised more than others. We teach our students to be good at maths by working, thinking, asking questions, practising. This way, they improve their understanding, speed and accuracy.
We emphasise the importance of not always getting things right – if you’re not making mistakes, the chances are that you’re not learning.
Why do we teach in this way?
When we talk about high achievement we include high academic examination results. We mean much more than that though.
We are facing unprecedented social, economic and environmental challenges. The future is uncertain and unpredictable. If we weren’t already aware of that, events this year have demonstrated just how vital it is that we are able to adapt to the unexpected and unknown; more than that even, that we’re able to shape how we and others respond to the unexpected and unknown.
Yes, we prepare students to leave St Swithun’s with excellent examination results; we also prepare them to be confident, community-minded, resilient problem-solvers, ready to tackle that uncertain and unknown future and to flourish.
How do we teach for high performance?
We teach these thinking skills and values and behaviours through subject lessons, through our extensive and varied co-curricular programme, through pastoral support, through our PSHE programme; essentially, through everything that we offer at St Swithun’s.
Children in our prep school are introduced to the thinking skills through five superhero characters. Dressed in a vivid costume, each superhero makes regular appearances in assemblies, at school plays and in other activities as well as in the classroom to demonstrate how the application of their particular superpower enhances achievement. Children become more aware of their own learning and recognise that learning is not just about ‘knowing the right answer’. For further information about HPL in the prep school, click here.
Senior school pupils track their own personal development and learning journey with the aid of an electronic portfolio. In that, they can record the skills and attributes they develop in specific subjects, in their co-curricular activities and in anything else in which they participate.
What follows are a few specific examples to illustrate how students are taught and develop their thinking skills and dispositions:
During form time, pupils in L4/Yr 7 are challenged by ‘stories for thinking’. They read or listen to a story and then questions are raised to get them thinking more broadly. For example, an extract from Wind in the Willows could lead to questions about whether animals feel pain and consideration of how we interact with our environment.
Towards the end of the autumn term, we run an advent calendar challenge: students are set a specific challenge for each day and they then upload evidence of them meeting that challenge.
For example, the challenge for 14 November was ‘risk-taking’ (one of the values, attitudes and attributes). One student tackled the unfamiliar by making sushi, something she had always wanted to try but thought would be too difficult. She followed some recipes from YouTube and was surprised how easy and delicious her creation was.
Following a series of history lessons about the causes of conflict in England in 1066, students form hypotheses about the generic causes of conflict. They then go on to test those hypotheses by exploring the causes of the First World War, for example. In this way, students are thinking logically and critically and developing their ability to form generalisations and work with abstract concepts.
Children do not spend their whole lives in school; families are at the heart of learning. Research shows conclusively that children who have support from their family are likely to achieve more highly. Parents can also play their role in fostering the thinking skills, values and behaviours associated with high performance. It is not a question of parents creating an onerous training regime; rather, being aware that these competencies are valuable and that reinforcing them helps to develop them.
So what can parents do at home to support their children?
- It is crucial to share with your children the belief that they can achieve highly if they learn the right skills and practise hard enough. American inventor, Thomas Edison, is famously quoted as describing genius as 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. When we see an expert in action, we must remember the hours of practice that underpin their expertise.
- Believe in your child. Believe that they can do well and that they can solve problems when things go wrong.
- Praise your child for their efforts e.g. “well done for having a go….for sticking at that….”, “you’re so much better at that than you used to be…”; rather than “what happened to the other 2 marks?”
- Be a good role model. If you give up halfway through putting up a shelf because it’s too difficult and you’re “rubbish at DIY”, expect your child to learn not to persist in the face of difficulty.
- Avoid comments such as “well I was rubbish at …… at school so you get that from me”.
- Show that you like learning as well.
- Encourage curiosity: answer their questions and ask questions of them.
- Encourage collaboration. Teamwork is at the heart of all great discoveries and inventions.
- Give your child responsibility and don’t worry if they make mistakes.
- Talk and read with your child and help them to connect ideas.
- Ask questions like “why?”, “how do you know that?”, “what evidence do you have for that?”, “what happens if….?”.
For more information and suggestions, we recommend Wendy Berliner and Professor Deborah Eyre's book Great Minds and How to Grow Them.
Our head Jane Gandee talks about High Performance Learning in this video:
Spotlight on thinking skills, attitudes and attributes: top tips for parents
Each week we are adding a specific thinking skill, attitude or attribute and suggesting ways in which parents can encourage their child to develop it. Click here for our top tips.