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Having worked in education for quite a while now, I’ve seen an awful lot of stuff, of varying quality, come out of the Department for Education. But amongst this sea of initiatives, one document stands out amongst all others as eminently far-sighted and sensible; ‘Development Matters’.

This document considers how adults working in the early years can help children to have the best possible start in life. Central to the guidance is the idea that children will thrive in education once they develop the ‘characteristics of effective learning’; playing and exploring, active learning, creating and thinking critically. It is clear that supporting our youngest children to become effective learners is a real investment in their future – and becoming an effective learner is a clear indicator of future success.

One of the things I think we do exceptionally well at Highgate Primary is continue this philosophy beyond nursery and reception, through the whole of the primary age range. After all, ‘loving learning’ is set out as one of the pillars of our school vision. We know that children who have learnt to become effective learners aged 11, will thrive educationally as they move through secondary school and beyond.

Our children’s attitude to learning is wonderful to see. Whenever I take visitors around the school, things are never stage-managed because I know that children are going to be engaged, not because we make them, but because our curriculum and approach engages and excites them. Education at Highgate Primary isn’t something we do to children, it’s something we do together.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been the occasional moment when I’ve walked into a classroom with visitors at the wrong time – and hurriedly had to usher prospective parents out using quickly adopted distraction tactics. One particularly awkward moment involved walking into the corridor outside Year 2 to find an Assistant Headteacher struggling to put his pants on over his trousers. I knew this was because he was about to make an entrance as ‘Eliot, Midnight Superhero’ and save the world from a meteor attack, but our visitors were clearly wondering what on earth was going on. I imagine their children are now at St Michaels.

Inspiring our children, developing their independence, building their resilience and supporting them to truly take responsibility for their success is essential. We get universally positive feedback from secondary schools with regard to the attitudes of our alumni, and it’s always heart-warming to see Old Highgatarians nostalgically return to where it all started, proud to share their latest achievements.

Unfortunately the attitudes that determine children’s future success are difficult to measure and record in graphs, charts and tables. The Department for Education therefore measure the success of schools using just the measurable data – SATs results. In terms of attainment, we’re an inclusive, community school performing in the top 20% of schools nationally – and we’re rightly proud of the standards our children achieve. However, were there a league table for the characteristics of effective learning at the end of primary school, I’m confident we’d be amongst the best schools in the world.


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