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Pupils colour their thoughts

Surrey students try on lateral thinking guru's multi-coloured hats and improve their GCSE results. Karen Thornton reports

PUPILS and staff do not put on a thinking hat when they go into lessons at Bishop David Brown school - they put on six.

They are part of a package of thinking tools, developed by lateral thinking guru Edward de Bono, that the Surrey comprehensive has introduced to help improve standards (see box).

The school has now become the first to be accredited by Dr de Bono to run his programmes and train others in his methods, and will host a national conference on the scheme next month. Around 30 other schools are working towards accreditation.

Denise Coppard, headteacher, credits the tools in part for a big improvement in her pupils' GCSE results. The proportion of pupils gaining top grades rose from 31 to 40 per cent between 2000 and 2002, in a school more typical of the inner city than affluent Surrey, according to its levels of free school meals, special needs, and pupils with English as an additional language.

Ms Coppard said: "We will know we have really succeeded when all the children use the thinking techniques independently without teachers having to prompt them."

First introduced to Year 11 revision classes and Year 7 personal, social and health education lessons, the tools are now used throughout the school in a range of subject areas, in summer schools, with feeder primaries, on community projects, and even in senior management meetings. Most recently, staff used "six hats" to develop a new pastoral support policy.

Robin Pellatt, assistant head, said: "It is difficult to say this is the reason why standards have gone up: it is part of the whole raising standards package. But it just sits so well with the key stage 3 strategy, is easy to use, useful, and you get feedback straight away."

He asked a Year 7 group whether parents should sit in on lessons. Youngsters' gut reactions were to object, but "six hats" requires them to think about positive (support for learning) as well as negative (no room for parents) issues, and think creatively about alternatives.

Dr Sue Turner, assistant head, has been using "six hats" to help pupils in feeder primary schools evaluate and improve on science experiments.

"Very often children cannot criticise their own work because they did it so carefully. Using 'six hats' takes that personal criticism out so it is not threatening. That means they can start to criticise their own experiment and take it a step further and ask what we could do if we had another two weeks," she said.

Kristie Hosking, independent learning co-ordinator, believes it gives students somewhere to start when faced with the inevitable "discuss" questions in exams. One Year 11 pupil took six coloured pencils into her GCSE exams to remind her to apply the process to her answers.

Edward de Bono will be addressing a conference for schools at Bishop David Brown on December 10. For more details email or telephone 01483 880004


* Each imaginary hat represents a different kind of thinking about a problem or issue.

* The whole group wears the same colour hat at the same time, so everyone is doing the same kind of thinking at the same time.

* Six different colours indicate different kinds of thinking:

fact-gathering (white); gut reactions and feelings (red); negative points (black); positive points (yellow); creativity and new ideas (green); organising the thinking (blue).

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