New funding for neuroscience to improve learning announced, as schools warned against untested methods

Teachers are being warned against wasting public money and resources on so-called educational tools and schemes which are based on weak brain research.

At a news briefing hosted by the Education Media Centre, leading figures from the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation launched a six million pound funding initiative for new rigorous and thoroughly evaluated research into how neuroscience can be used to improve learning and raise pupils` attainment.

Examples might include systematically testing the impact of different school start times and lengths of lessons or investigating how listening to music in lessons may or may not enhance learning.

They also expressed concern some schools were being persuaded by the appeal of a sales pitch to use various so-called neuroscience based teaching methods or products which had not been rigorously and scientifically tested and for which there was no peer-reviewed evidence they helped raise academic achievement.

One example given at the briefing of a plausible but potentially harmful teaching practice, which isn`t supported by robust evidence, is the idea that children fall into separate groups of learning styles. In the past, this has led to learners being labelled as, for example, “visual learners” and being taught primarily visually. But there is research suggesting this approach may actually be harmful to learning.

(Kratzig GP, Arbuthnott KD. Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: a test of the hypothesis. J ED Psych 2006;238-46 and Geake J. Neuromythologies in education. Ed Res 2008;50:123-33)

To find out more about what the existing education research says and does not say about various teaching methods and tools which are based, or claim to be based, on neuroscience evidence read this review by Dr Paul Howard-Jones, Reader of Neuroscience and Education at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol.

The Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation are confident neuroscience is an exciting field of research with a great deal of promise for understanding how our brains work and, applied in the classroom, could improve teaching and learning.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of the EEF and the Sutton Trust said,“ Improving our understanding of how the brain works will deepen our understanding of how pupils learn. Knowing the impact of neuroscience in the classroom will also make it easier to spot the plausible sounding fads and fakes, which don`t improve standards. This is essential if we are to increase the attainment of pupils, particularly those from low-income families.”

To listen to short interviews recorded at the briefing with Dr Hilary Leevers, (Wellcome Trust)  Kevan Collins, ( EEF) & Dr Paul Howard-Jones ( Bristol University) click below

Sue Littlemore, from the EMC, spoke to Dr Kevan Collins, Chief Executive for the Education Endowment Foundation, and asked him how neuroscience might be used in learning:

But how much evidence do we already have on how neuroscience informs learning? Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust, explains:

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, Reader in Neuroscience and Education at the University of Bristol, has looked at the evidence of what neuroscience and education can tell us:


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