Highdown School & Sixth Form Centre

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Highdown School & Sixth Form Centre's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Highdown School & Sixth Form Centre is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles


Highest-performing non-selective
Head teacher, Rachel Cave
Highdown School and Sixth Form Centre, based and
established in Emmer Green, North Reading in 1971,
is a mixed comprehensive school currently with 1,300
students on roll between the ages of 11 and 19, and is currently
the highest-performing non-selective school in Reading.
Fundamentally underpinning the school is the belief that
improving the quality of teaching will yield dividends for the
children – part and parcel with this is the desire to have teachers
enthused by their work. Highdown’s head teacher, Rachel Cave,
writes the following.
Learning is exciting
Our belief at Highdown is simple: great learning comes when teachers stay fresh
and excited by what they do daily. Learning is exciting; young people deserve their
teachers to be genuinely enthused by topics they teach, even if they have taught
them many times before. Our leadership of Highdown encourages continuous self-
reflection to ensure no opportunity is passed up to improve and develop.
When I took over as head teacher, the students were surprised to see me visit
their classes. “What’s she doing in here?” I heard a few times as I got to know
my new school. After five years, the open culture of the classroom is now very
different. Many colleagues visit our school from near and far to see our five-year
learning journey in action. Students never bat an eyelid now, and are prepared to
explain to anyone what they are learning, the level of difficulty and how to improve
»Head teacher: Rachel Cave
»Founded in 1971
»Based in Emmer Green, north
Reading, Berkshire
»Type of school: Mixed
comprehensive school
»No. of students: 1,300
»No. of staff: 100
»Highest-performing non-
selective school in Reading
»Has an 18th-century manor
house alongside its modern
Highdown School and
Sixth Form Centre
Highlighting best practice
Highdown has become known for
its supportive and creative approach
to improvement. We have changed
students from passive individuals,
merely receiving information, to
engaged learners, hungry for more.
We encourage teachers to take risks in
the classroom and challenge everyone
to go beyond their comfort zones;
be ready to fail and therefore ready
Changing culture within an institution
requires simple clarity. Students
achieve great outcomes when they
have great teaching – it’s no more
complicated than that. Working
towards making teaching great
required systemic and procedural
change, as well as relentless follow-
up to ensure these changes were
working. When I evaluated classes five
years ago, students were surprised at
my presence because there was not
a clear system for evaluating daily
practice. Every school period now
has a senior or middle leader doing
what we call “learning walking”, that
is, visiting classrooms in our school.
Colleagues quickly bought into this
and requested lesson-by-lesson
feedback. Any concerns are quickly
relayed privately, so individual action
can be taken; great practice is shared
and celebrated within our community.
Collatedfeedback is also analysed to
provide insights into departmental
strengths and areas for development.
Coaching for excellence and
the rich diet of pedagogy
Teachers who require support are
coached by a trained team to move
forward in their practice. This is so
successful and well received that
teachers themselves request coaching
to support their development – this
may be in a specific area of practice
such as teaching A level for the first
time or motivating reluctant boys.
Our weekly diet of development
includes a mini “teachmeet” – that is,
five minutes of a quick tip to make
lessons enjoyable from a rota of
teachers. We have learning and teaching
communities which work in groups on
action research projects, with summer
feedback and awards at a highly
competitive “Highdown’s Got Talent”
or the “Great Highdown Teach Off”.
There are weekly training sessions on a
range of topics aimed at all stages of a
professional’s career, from the beginner
teacher to the aspiring seniorleaders.
We believe in Dylan Wiliam’s oft-
quoted saying: “If we create a culture
where every teacher believes they need
to improve – not because they are not
good enough but because they can be
even better – there is no limit to what
we can achieve.”
Weekly training sessions are therefore
called Joint Professional Learning
(JPL). We are all learners. To keep this
fresh, the team gives each annual
programme a new flavour. Last
year the theme was “Bicycles and
Butterflies”. Bicycles because of Team
Sky’s relentless drive for improvement
based on marginal gains; butterflies
because of “Austin’s Butterfly” (“An
Ethic of Excellence” by Ron Berger).
Students achieve great
Engaged learners
hungry for more
We encourage
teachers to
take risks in
the classroom
and challenge
everyone to
go beyond
their comfort
Thisshows how effective feedback can
bring about significant improvement.
Sessions include:
»Memorisation, study and revision
»Takeaway home learning
»Literacy and numeracy across the
»Post-16: Differentiation and challenge
»Catering for our lower/lowest
attaining learners
This year the title “Lightbulbs and
Lemon Sherbets” piqued interest. One
type of light bulb (
Don’t change the
light bulbs
created by Rachel Jones)
provides us with brightness and enables
us to explore new places and new ideas.
Another type of light bulb refers to
those moments when you find a little
bit of inspiration. JPL sessions are about
exploring ideas – some old, some new –
and looking for different approaches to
learning and teaching, hopefully in the
process inspiring us to try out at least
one new idea in the classroom after
each JPL session. Lemon Sherbets: hard
on the outside, but worth the effort of
getting to the middle of the sweet for
the kick of sherbet! JPL sessions may
challenge us with new ideas and new
approaches to learning and teaching,
or even challenge thinking about old
ideas, butthey also aim to promote
collaborative inspiration for teaching
– the “fizz” ofthe sherbet lemon
Ofteaching, learning and sherbet
by Nina Jackson).
Learning leadership
Our philosophy of improving learning at
all levels is underpinned by our structure,
whereby teachers at any point in their
careers can undertake developmental
activities to take their career to the next
level. While this can take great teachers
out of the classroom, its impact on
developing teachers of the future and
leading learning across a faculty or range
of subjects will influence the learning of
even more young Highdowners.
JPL sessions are
brilliant and
have really
impacted my
practice – over
time JPL sessions
have hugely
improved my
teaching and
leadership skills
Matt Grantham
[deputy head],
September 2017.
Based on an
approach by Shaun
Allison, Durrington
High School


This article was sponsored by Highdown School & Sixth Form Centre. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister