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What is a Thinking School?

Professor Bob Burden defined a thinking school as:

‘an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve both students and staff learning how to think reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities. Successful outcomes will be reflected in student’s across a wide range of abilities demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills, high levels of achievement and both enjoyment and satisfaction in learning. Benefits will be shown in ways in which all members of the community interact with and show consideration for each other and in the positive psychological well-being of both students and staff.’ (Burden, 2006)

He also gave another, longer definition ...

‘Perhaps a more pertinent question is ‘what is a non-thinking school?’ Isn’t thinking a key component of most learning and isn’t student learning the primary function of all schools? Unfortunately, a great deal of evidence would appear to indicate that a significant proportion of pupils pass through their 15,000 hours of schooling without being required to do much real thinking at all. External tests and examinations are prepared for and passed at every level by means of drills and rote-memory exercises with the result that a great deal of superficial information may have been accumulated without any reflection on its value or the meaning. Meanwhile, the notion of an autonomous (and group orientated) learner and problem-solver has been completely lost.

The point here is not to blame schools, overwhelmed by the demands of covering a largely content-based curriculum and the potential costs of failing to do well in Ofsted inspections or being placed well down in unofficial media-based ‘league tables’. Our suggestion is that there is a viable alternative which has its foundation in a return to the purpose of producing educated citizens of the world.

The indications are that placing cognition at the heart of the education enterprise and developing ways of establishing explicit links between critical and creative thinking and high quality autonomous learning and pro-social behaviour can have enormous benefits for the students, the ethos of the schools, and for the wider community.

Our definition of a thinking school, therefore is an educational community in which all members share a common commitment to giving regular, careful thought to everything that takes place. This will involve learning how to think, reflectively, critically and creatively, and to employing these skills and techniques in the co-construction of a meaningful curriculum and associated activities. Successful outcomes will be reflected in students across a wide range of abilities demonstrating independent and co-operative learning skills, high levels of achievement, and both enjoyment and satisfaction in learning. Benefits will also be shown in ways which all members of the community interact with and show consideration for each other and in the positive psychological well-being of both students and staff.

In order to achieve this goal, a whole school approach will be necessary whereby all stakeholders (including parents and school governors) are fully committed to the school’s aims and how they can best be achieved. Staff will need to be specially trained and methods will need to be introduced into the curriculum for teaching the skills of thinking and associated cognitive and meta-cognitive strategies. The widest possible application of these skills and strategies should underpin all other aspects of the curriculum and should guide behaviour policies and expectations about human interactions at every level and care for the environment.

To become a thinking school requires (shared) vision, skilful in-service training and a great deal of hard work. In one sense, the process is never-ending, but we do believe that schools demonstrating that they can match a certain number of basic criteria can rightfully claim to be a thinking school. ‘ (Burden, 2006)

What are the benefits of being a Thinking School?

Our approach is proven to improve grade attainment. More importantly, it supports educators with a framework and tools to arm those they educate with the skills and behaviors to succeed in a fast changing world. In brief:

Key Benefits for Pupils, Teachers and School

- Proven raised attainment

- Develops skilled, independent, reflective learners

- Greater motivation (for children and teachers)

- Improved discipline and attendance

- Improved attitudes, behaviours and coping strategies

- Creates a vibrant, collaborative learning environment

- Arms learners with the skills to be able to succeed in an ever-changing future.

More information and evidence of the benefits can be seen on ourBenefits & Evidence page.

How can we become a Thinking School?

To find out more about how to adopt a whole school approach to the teaching of thinking and learning behaviours, see our Schools Core Package.

If you're interested in find out more about Thinking School accreditation from the University of Exeter, see further details here.

What are the costs involved to be supported by Thinking Matters in adopting a whole school approach to the teaching of thinking?

Thinking Matters provides multiple services to support schools in their journey to adopting a whole school approach to the teaching of thinking and becoming a Thinking School. These include our “Core Package”, “Deep Dive” workshops, webinars, online training programmes & membership. Since no one school is the same in terms of its size, location or requirements there is therefore no one fixed cost to our support.

Even though the results of our approach show the equivalent of over a GCSE and SATS grade increase in attainment, our core package for UK based schools can be provided at an incredible value of between £1 and £5/pupil/year. Please contact us for further detail.

How do we become a partner with Thinking Matters?

Thinking Matters works in partnership with a growing network of international educational organisations who have adopted the Thinking Matters approach under license and use it within their territories.

We welcome conversations with those who would like to find out more about creating a partnership and who wish to make a difference to future generations in their own countries.

Have a look at our partners we are currently working with.

When did thinking skills become popular and why?

Open this pdf for a synopsis about thinking skills, when they developed and why ... PDF