I was lucky enough to spend some time recently travelling around India, which was a wonderful experience.
While on a sightseeing trip to Chittorgarh Fort in the state of Rajasthan, we were approached by an enthusiastic group of children from a local private school who were all keen to seize the opportunity to brush up on their English.
This is a part of the trip that I will always remember, as one of the boys we met spoke of his dream to follow in the footsteps of the many Indian people he had heard about who have travelled to the UK to set up thriving businesses. After chatting for a while, his parting words to us were "see you in London".
This boy's ambitious spirit brought to mind a news report I read not too long ago about a group of students from the London Academy of Excellence, a new free school. Despite being located in one of the capital's poorest boroughs, an impressive 43% achieved A* and A grades in their A levels in 2014 and four students gained Oxbridge places.
It struck me that despite their different backgrounds, these children have something very important in common - high aspiration. Can this be taught in our schools or is it simply inherent in some children?
Building hopes and dreams
Whether a school offers top quality teaching, impressive facilities for boosting achievement in music or sport - or all of the above - one of the most important things it can do is to encourage its pupils to aim high.
Creating a culture of academic excellence is a key factor here. More and more schools are recognising the importance of closely monitoring things like pupils' grades and house points. But there is plenty of scope for schools to take this a step further.
To get children striving to achieve, the most successful schools tap into their hopes and dreams too. This can give them a goal to work towards for the future, like the boy I spoke to in India.
Making a difference
If a school puts an initiative in place aimed at inspiring its pupils, it would be useful to be able to evaluate how successful the programme has been. This can be relatively simple to do, by looking at levels of pupil engagement and achievement, both before and after each event.
A school could organise a coaching session on debating skills, for instance, and then ask teachers to grade the contribution the children make in classroom discussions to see if it has made a difference to their enthusiasm or confidence.
It is then a simple step to look at the impact the activity may have had on attainment. With the right tools to hand, a school could quickly see whether there has there been any improvement in English grades following a grammar workshop given by a well-known author, for example.
Many parents would find it valuable to get more detailed information on the effect initiatives like these have had on their children's learning too.
The home-school link
Some schools I know of give parents and the pupils themselves the opportunity to be involved in the setting of learning goals. Schools could have much to gain from getting a clearer understanding of parents' ambitions for their children.
Each child will have a different starting point from which to build on. For the youngest child, this might mean that sitting still during story time is their key objective. For the aspiring cricketer, it could be captaining the school team. When schools capture more information on the progress their pupils make towards their learning goals, they are in a much better position to support them in their individual journey.
Even the highest achievers had to take the first steps towards their dreams - the greatest concert pianist must first spend many hours practising their scales. By recognising the importance of these steps, a child will see that their goals are possible. Just as the boy in India understood that before he could realise his ambition of running his own business in London, he needed to practice his English.
If you are a teacher or school leader who would like to find out more about the innovative ways your school can inspire pupils and keep them motivated to achieve, come along to the Bett show at London's ExCeL from 21 - 24 January. My team from SIMS Independent would be happy to welcome you on stand (B260).