What is a Thinking School?

Thinking Schools are infant schools, primaries, secondaries and all through schools. They are state funded, charitable trusts and privately owned. Some are part of school groups, some are resolutely independent. They are growing in number around the world. Whatever their context they have one thing in common - they take an explicit, evidence-informed, whole school approach to developing pupils’ cognitive capability and intelligent learning behaviours.

The late Professor Bob Burden, arguably the first educator to coin the phrase 'a Thinking School' back in 2006, had a definition which still underpins Exeter University’s accreditation requirements today:

‘A Thinking School 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 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.’ 

Defining the Meta-Learner Vision

For a fuller and deeper exploration of what makes a Thinking School:

The late Professor Burden, University of Exeter provides a fuller definition of what it means to be a Thinking School…

The ‘Thinking School’ ethos pervades all aspects of school life and accounts for highly reflective leaders, managers, teachers, and pupils….They make rapid progress in their learning because of their exceptional ability to think, to reason and to work independently.

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