“A student’s academic development cannot be understood in isolation but must be considered in conjunction with their emotional and physical wellbeing, confidence, maturity and happiness.” – Head of Leighton Park School, Matthew Judd
Leighton Park’s Sixth Formers achieved the best academic progress in Berkshire, with the school itself standing among the top 40 in England. But this school is no results factory, academic success is the consequence of its approach rather than the object.
Leighton Park has a unique approach to education. The school prides itself on achievement with values, character and community. Students are guided by their tutors to develop a programme that stretches them, challenges them in new ways, and which really nourishes their love of learning.
Choice is at the centre of this, with students able to choose between 26 GCSE options, A Level or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in the Sixth Form, and immerse themselves in a staggering 90 different co-curricular hobbies. These range from academic extension like maths team or creative science club to a dizzying array of music options, drama, sport and clubs to develop skills, like debating, TED Ed or the student-led charity, Amicus.
The hobbies programme, combined with an incredible life skills programme called ‘Your Life’, a music, drama and sport for all approach, and a curriculum centred around project-based learning, help develop the character of all learners, giving them the tools to live considered and purposeful lives.
“To me, it is self-evident that education should not focus on one aspect of a young person’s development. How can it? Like a complex organisation, success in one area depends on other areas performing well, too,” says Matthew Judd, Head of the school.
“The boundless creativity shown by our students is not for show. It is vital that we celebrate talent in all its guises, supporting our students to grow in confidence. Fully developing our talents helps us to live with integrity and purpose. Recognising and celebrating our own talents helps us to respect the talents and qualities of others.”
At Leighton Park, learning is intertwined with a strong moral code. The Quaker values upon which the school was founded encourage openness, understanding and mutual respect. This makes the school an ideal international environment, reflected by the school’s status as an IB World School and a community of students representing 32 different countries.
Examples include the school’s Change Champions programme. The emphasis is on social action, service and experiential learning, with a link to environmental sustainability. The programme sees students engage in change initiatives that have a positive impact in their local community. In another programme students mentored local primary school children in a computer science challenge, helping them enter a national competition. These are programmes where everyone benefits and when you see it you wonder why this isn’t happening in all schools.
“There has never been a more important moment for schools to encourage those values in young people of integrity, mindfulness and self-awareness. It is a School with real soul and this is testament to the hard work of our students and staff,” explains Judd.
Learning at Leighton Park is its own ecosystem – it’s complex. Every element benefits from the other while no part is attainable in isolation.
This ecosystem exposes students to the working environment as part of their preparation for life after school. The school works with several industry partners in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as well as the Creative Arts areas. In one programme, for which the school came runner-up in a national competition, the industry partners come into the school to present challenges they are facing in their industries. In tackling these challenges, and pitching their ideas back to the industry partners, students gain interdisciplinary problem-solving skills, communication and team working skills that are highly relevant and adaptable.
“The emphasis on creative problem solving, contextualising learning and inspiring a love of learning shows a commitment to finding truth, not in an abstract sense but in a tangible way to work towards a fairer, more peaceful and more sustainable future. Students will need these skills in the rapidly changing world we live in,” adds Judd.
Students at Leighton Park become caring and eager to be active participants, a natural result of the principled and diverse experience they receive at the school. Success gleaned from academics is a direct product of this.
“Our 128-year-old secret formula for achieving excellent academic progress is not really much of a secret. Our principal aim is to inspire students to succeed as themselves and to achieve in life, not just academic tests. We are not a results factory and we are not trying to produce a certain type of student,” concludes Judd.