St Marys School Cambridge

At St Mary's School, Cambridge we began our HPL journey in September 2017. We chose HPL as a strategic vehicle for the development of Teaching & Learning because of the way in which it combined our aims in terms of Teaching & Learning with our existing values. Like many schools, in recent years our whole school CPD has focused on issues like assessment/peer assessment, 'talk', and learning habits including developing a growth mindset. HPL brings all these strands and more together into a single coherent pedagogy which is as useful in Reception as it is in the Upper Sixth. It brings direction to any whole school approach through a clear sense of the pillars which underpin High Performance Learning. Clarity about specific cognitive skills along with the absolute importance of the right learning attitudes and behaviours mean that there is no need to tack on other initiatives alongside HPL. We were also attracted by the fact that HPL is not a one size fits all approach; it can and should be adapted and developed by each school. With a clear sense of our own historic values and a new digital platform which requires the training of students in broad 21st century skills, this very much appealed to us.

First steps in implementing HPL

During the Summer Term we began to lay some foundations. We amended our student Behaviour Policy so that its focus was readiness to learn and informed parents of the change. Heads of Departments were introduced to HPL first and completed some reading before a launch to the whole staff in September. During the Autumn Term some departments led pilot projects and all CPD has focused on HPL. During the Spring Term each of the year groups has been introduced to the ACPs in some of their curriculum areas and Year 10, in the first instance, is focusing on the VAAs in some of students’ tutorial time. A student advisory group of 'learning detectives' has also been set up to ensure students’ involvement, and parents have been engaged through an information evening.

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Impact of HPL so far

Perhaps because HPL is so holistic, the impact has been more varied and widespread than we could ever have expected. Our Junior School pupils have led the way in designing some fantastic animals to represent each of the ACPs and embed them into the school’s learning culture. Staff members have really welcomed the challenge of such a flexible approach and have experimented with all sorts of different ways of Teaching & Learning.

For example, quite practically, the Art Department was pleasantly surprised to find that a lot of the concepts contained in the ACPs were compatible with existing assessment criteria. This has led to the use of ACPs explicitly at GCSE and A Level.

Historians have loved that HPL encourages students to be curious and see the world through different perspectives. On a recent trip to Ypres, Year 9 students reflected upon the way that World War I is remembered: do we remember it accurately and fairly? The students visited the immaculate white-stoned cemeteries of the allied soldiers before visiting the German cemetery, with dark imposing trees and communal graves. Why were the cemeteries so different? What can we learn about attitudes to sacrifice? These are challenging, mature questions and students can and did formulate impressively nuanced judgements about the different ways loss of life is memorialised by the winners and losers.

Key stage 1 teachers have enjoyed the opportunity of thinking more carefully about structuring lessons around pupils’ questions. For example, instead of instructing an investigation into the absorbency of paper towels, the children came up with their own suggestions on how to set up the experiment. It has been liberating to give very young children more responsibility for their learning – it becomes much more of a partnership in learning.

In Technology lessons, teachers have found that so much of HPL is really about going back to thinking about how students learn, rather than how teachers deliver learning to them. It has meant setting the right challenges, the right learning atmosphere, and the right expectations. Our Head of Technology says: “I think that the difference it has made to me in my lessons is really taking the time to explore learning, making the learning process obvious, talking about it, bringing it all out in the open. It is a learning process for all of us.”

What have we learned?

Just do it! HPL is very complex in theory, but needn't be in practice. Essentially for us it has really been about the willingness to try new things. By doing this and trusting the students to talk about and own their learning we have moved a long way as a learning community in a very short time.


St Marys, Cambridge:


High Performance Learning
Belsyre Court
57 Woodstock Road
United Kingdom
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phone book 2 +44 (0)1993 222408