Falcons School, Putney Head Sara Williams-Ryan on why inspiring curiosity and critical thinking are the best ways to develop truly ambitious learners

As the Head of Falcons School, Putney, I am determined that our students should be academically ambitious and take responsibility for their learning from the moment they join us. We know that this is the greatest accelerator of pupil progress, both academically and developmentally. We have, therefore, embedded the Thinking School approach – an approach focused on critical thinking and curiosity – across our Nursery and Prep, so the boys and girls in our school can truly thrive and succeed academically.

“I hear this language of critical thinking echoing in the conversations between children and parents at the school gates”

The introduction of critical thinking skills into school programmes is backed by evidence of its impact. As far back as the 1980s, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported the need for schools to produce independent thinkers and problem solvers, also questioning the long-term effectiveness of school initiatives. An inquiry carried out by Exeter University’s Cognitive Education centre concluded that the issue lay not in the programmes themselves, but with the way in which they were being introduced into school curriculums. This finding has deeply influenced our thinking at Falcons School.

Here, our methods reach far beyond the National Curriculum, by systemically embedding the Thinking School approach across all areas of learning and at all age levels. This is so it has the long-term impact on pupils’ academic and social development set out by the OECD. From Early Years up to Year 6, we have implemented a deep range of age-appropriate metacognitive strategies and thinking tools into the learning programme. Set these alongside the academic rigour you would expect from a prep school such as ours, and our pupils can achieve truly exciting learning outcomes.

Falcons School on building critical thinking skills
Encouraging reflection and critical thinking early is the way to help children develop independence of thought and self regulation, says Falcons School

Guided by our school values of ambition, resilience and respect, pupils at Falcons School are encouraged to be reflective in their thoughts and actions and to take responsibility for their learning, as well as their behaviour, both inside and outside of the classroom. Difficult at first, but we know that this practice has helped our pupils become ambitious, independent young learners, and with a growth mindset that prepares them for a future of lifelong success.

We crucially extend our support to parents, sharing with them strategies such as the Habits of Mind, Zones of Regulation and Thinking Routines. This helps them to reinforce their children’s learning habits at home. I am delighted that our parents embrace this new way of teaching and learning – and I hear this language of critical thinking echoing in the conversations between children and parents at the school gates.

Falcons School is a testament to the fact that education can be a powerful tool for positive change. When we start by sowing the seeds of curiosity and critical thinking in the youngest of minds, working step by step, we can then nurture a generation of confident, independent, and ambitious future leaders.

Falcons School falconsschool.co.uk

Further reading: Aysgarth School on building skills for life