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Exciting Developments in Northern Ireland

There is growing interest from schools in Northern Ireland (NI) in becoming Thinking Schools. The Thinking Matters’ approach provides a useful perspective for schools there, many of whom have been searching for more than decade to find an evidence-informed, student-centred model to assist their implementation of the statutory curriculum (CCEA, 2007) in which a ‘Thinking Skills and Personal Capabilities’ framework is ‘infused’ through the Areas of Learning.

Whilst some NI schools have developed interesting and effective cognitive education approaches, many have struggled to make the skills and capabilities transparent and meaningful within their curriculum provision. A number of NI schools have recognised the potential benefits of embracing the Thinking Matters’ whole school approach to the explicit teaching of thinking, which is carefully and strategically planned, monitored and evaluated, and which includes the development of a common language of thinking and learning and consistent use of common thinking tools and strategies across the school.

The concept of Thinking Schools was first pursued in Northern Ireland soon after the curriculum became statutory, with Ballymena Primary School becoming the first local school to gain accreditation from the University of Exeter. Following a highly successful Regio Comenius funded project involving six NI primary schools and four Oslo schools which was led by the then NEELB (North Eastern Education and Library Board) and Oslo Education Authority, St MacNissi’s Primary School, Newtownabbey also succeeded in gaining accreditation as a Thinking School.

Cumran Primary School - Thinking School
Cumran Primary School, NI - A Thinking School


A major review of public administration led to the establishment of a centralised single Education Authority for Northern Ireland in 2015, resulting in the ending of the NEELB and other four ELBs in NI and a consequent reduction in provision of professional development, advisory support and training for schools with the creation of a new regional School Development Service. Since then, Cumran Primary School has been the only NI school to have achieved accreditation as a Thinking School and has recently become the first NI Hub School.

Within recent months, however, with an independent Thinking Matters’ Consultant now based in NI, momentum is building with a renewed interest in Thinking Schools. Earlier this year, a group of fourteen school leaders from eight NI post primary schools visited Leventhorpe School, Hertfordshire to observe good practice. Five of these schools have already commenced training with Thinking Matters, as have a small number of primary schools.

Some NI representatives have attended the annual Thinking Matters’ conference and recognised the benefits of being part of an international network of like-minded schools.

In addition to ongoing developments with individual schools, more exciting plans are unfolding for NI ...

  • During the coming autumn term, a Thinking School Open Day will be facilitated in Cumran Primary School to promote the Thinking School approach with an opportunity for interested local primary schools to visit.
  • An inaugural meeting of a NI Thinking Schools’ network will be held later in the autumn term to ensure effective communication and to enable local sharing of practice and provision of mutual support.
  • Plans are also underway to host a one-day Thinking Matters’ NI Conference during Spring term 2020 – further information coming soon!

For any schools in Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland interested in finding more about becoming a Thinking School using the Thinking Matters’ approach please contact Lorna Gardiner.

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  • The outcomes of the Regio Comenius Project ‘Developing Thinking Schools: Northern Ireland to Norway’ can be read here.
  • A record of Cumran Primary Schools' thinking journey can be seen here.