What is a Thinking School? The journey towards accreditation

You have read the EEF report, you have tried and begun to embed different metacognitive strategies, you meet students in the corridor that begin to talk about their learning… What is your next step? That’s easy to answer: become a Thinking School! A Thinking School takes an explicit, evidence informed, whole school approach to developing pupils’ cognitive capability and intelligent learning behaviours.

According to the EEF toolkit’s key findings, 7+ additional months of progress is common within schools that have supported students to think about their own learning more explicitly by directing, monitoring and reviewing the repertoire of strategies employed.

What works? Back to our dear friends Bananarama and their song ‘it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it’ – that is what gets results! It is not what you choose to do, to help develop Metacognition and Self-Regulated Learning, but the way you go about it. 

The journey towards accreditation with the University of Exeter helps shape the way forward for schools as they become a Thinking School. Additionally, the evidence from accredited schools shows progress closer to an additional 9 months. If you attended the recent webinar, with The Charles Dickens School, you will have had the opportunity to hear why they, as a non-selective school in Kent, started this journey in 2017. They were drawn by the strong emphasis on creative thinking and outcomes for their students of all abilities and backgrounds. As a school they were determined to ensure that there were high levels of achievement whilst developing the intrinsic motivation and enjoyment of learning for both staff and students.

Once they had made the decision to become a Thinking School, by following the accreditation process, as outlined by the University of Exeter, provided a beneficial starting point. The university’s criteria helped the school structure their action plan and gave them a clear goal with micro-mastery steps to achieve, not only for staff, but also for students. Every step pushed them to be reflective and consider the impact the approach was having upon their whole school community. Admittedly, it was not all plain sailing, and after trying to embed various tools, they had to look back and review their approach. It is important to remember that the strategic implementation of a culture of metacognition takes time! Schools need to plan for evolution and accept that things will change, which of course reflects the very nature of schools to be a place of constant development and continuous improvement.

Whether or not you are considering the accreditation route, as highlighted by The Charles Dickens School, it may be helpful to use the university’s criteria as a guiding framework from the start. Schools generally find it useful to collate evidence, building up the full picture as they implement, documenting changes or where approaches have been adapted (in effect demonstrating the metacognitive cycle!) For schools pursuing accreditation, the evidence base should be collated digitally to be shared with the University of Exeter and you may find it helpful to utilise the Thinking Matters Exeter Accreditation software for this purpose. (Exeter Accreditation Platform).

Dr Dave Walters, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Exeter, considers that thinking skills and techniques are at the heart of a meaningful curriculum; not an add-on, but rooted and woven through. When Dr Walters first starts to look at a school’s evidence he is enquiring whether that community is continuously looking for growth rather than accreditation as an endpoint. Is the Thinking School approach the culture of the school? Is this the way they do everything? Does a visible Thinking School culture permeate the school?

By looking at the school’s website, you should be able to identify the Thinking Schools’ philosophy permeating into the contact with parents, philosophy and ideas. All Thinking Schools are encouraged to use the SPARE model when describing the context of their ‘Setting’, to enable progress and impact to be robustly monitored.

The university’s accreditation report is organised in seven sections which relate to their criteria:

  1. Senior Management and Whole School Commitment
  2. Training
  3. Assessment
  4. Outcomes
  5. Evaluation of Programmes
  6. Ownership
  7. School Ethos

The progress made by the students at The Charles Dickens School, since starting in 2017, is evidence that a whole school approach to developing student metacognition and self-regulation is effectively embedded. The road has not always been smooth, but they have adapted to their context and continue to reflect every step of the way. Now that they are accredited they are already thinking about ‘next steps’ to sharpen and improve their approach. They have developed a coherent CPD programme to blend in-house expertise and provider training to ensure weekly slots and time for collaboration and support. Monitoring was another key factor – weekly and regular departmental deep dives along with their CDS teaching curriculum. They also placed a high value on sharing best practice within their trust and other local schools.

The University of Exeter has been offering a route to formal accreditation for some time for all schools nationally and internationally through the Thinking School Award. All schools seeking to gain the Exeter Thinking School Award (Level 1) or the Exeter Advanced Thinking School Award (Level 2) will be accredited using the Reflective Proforma and digital evidence format.

How does Thinking Matters help schools implement whole-school metacognition? Find out here…

If you are interested in finding out more about become a Thinking School or using the Exeter Accreditation Platform to collate your evidence:

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