The following article comes from Simon Brian, Head of St Leonards School, St Andrews, Scotland.
St Leonards is a distinguished school located in the heart of St Andrews with a rich history spanning 150 years. The School has always been a pioneer in education, and as the Head, I am blessed and proud to lead a School that embraces the International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes with the clear aim of fostering the development of global citizens. Our School offers all four IB programmes, one of only a select number of schools worldwide to do so.
At St Leonards, we have succeeded in making a purposeful move away from the relentless testing and examination culture that can be seen in certain educational systems; and yet, we prioritise academic and intellectual ambition and freedom. This is where the IB shines, as it enables us to deliver a curriculum that encourages independent enquiry, nurtures an open mind, develops self-management skills, and encourages a global perspective. In comparison to many curriculum models, the IB stands out in these key areas and provides a truly holistic and forward-thinking approach to education.
Our primary learners encounter a strong emphasis on inquiry-based learning, which is central to the IB Primary Years Programme (PYP). The PYP ensures that the entire School’s approach aligns with the IB philosophy, and as such, provides a seamless transition from PYP to the Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Year 7 and beyond. By focusing on the IB Learner Profile Attributes, we help our young people build essential skills from an early age. Each month, we explore one attribute in detail, incorporating it into various aspects of school life, such as lessons, assemblies, and Ad Vitam sessions (our PSHE curriculum). This approach allows our pupils to develop a deep understanding of the attributes throughout their PYP journey, and readies them for the next stage of their IB journey.
PYP Units of Inquiry are tied into numeracy and literacy at every opportunity, and there is a firm belief that learning extends far beyond the four walls of a classroom. Lessons in the fresh air are the norm, whether they are in the outdoor classroom or on the sandy beach, just a two-minute walk from the School. Dips or “dooks” in St Andrews Bay are embraced with great enthusiasm each term, and connections in our wider community encourage an understanding of our pupils’ place in the world.
At the heart of our primary years is the focus on bringing learning to life. It is not about recalling facts from a textbook, but about finding an area of interest and working together to discover where that may lead. Classes are interactive and even the basics of Maths and Phonics can be taught on the shoreline or under a tree and enhanced by visitors, trips and activities with passionate educators behind the subjects.
At the heart of our primary years is the focus on bringing learning to life.
However, we always acknowledge that there are areas where we can further enhance our teaching and learning practices. Empowering our pupils to guide their own learning throughout the PYP requires careful planning, collaborative thought and time. Professional development and collaborative planning play central roles in achieving this aim, and while we provide training and opportunities for our staff, we recognise the need for external speakers, workshops, and in-school training sessions in order to bring about the very best professional practice. Collaborative planning is an ongoing focus, so we ensure we do our best to overcome challenges in finding dedicated time for collaboration between single-subject and class teachers. Crucially, we firmly believe in the importance of involving the whole learning community, including pupils, parents, and teachers, in the collaborative planning process.
The positive impact of our IB approaches to learning and teaching is a thread throughout our school. In the PYP, our pupils develop skills that are essential for their entire educational journey. Our emphasis on risk-taking, being caring, and taking the learning outdoors (the beach is an extension of our campus!) fosters well-rounded individuals who are prepared to face challenges and make positive contributions to their communities in many different contexts. This supports the transition to the MYP in Year 7, where the absence of traditional exams and a focus on attitude to learning skills empowers them to approach assessments with a far greater sense of curiosity and a confidence with adaptability. The MYP also encourages conceptual understanding and skills development without relying on prescribed content, allowing us to tailor the curriculum to the interests and contexts of the young people in our classes.
While assessments are an integral part of the IB programmes, St Leonards places equal importance on the process of learning. Both formative and summative assessments help us to ensure that our learners understand their progress and identify areas for improvement. By shifting the focus from exams to the application of knowledge in real-life scenarios, the PYP and MYP encourage much deeper understanding and independent inquiry. This dynamic approach ensures that our young people are well-prepared for the future, wherever that may take them.
To conclude, a globally focused education, such as our offering at St Leonards, is arguably the most effective way of supporting young people’s holistic, academic, social and emotional development. It is the key to equipping the leaders, thinkers, risk-takers and communicators of the future with the skills needed for success, on a local, national and international scale. At St Leonards, we believe there is simply no comparison when it comes to a curriculum.