Wellcome Trust and Education Endowment Foundation offer funding for research on use of neuroscience in classroom

Neuroscience has the potential to improve education, but its use in the classroom must be based on robust evidence, the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) today argue.

The two organisations have launched Education and Neuroscience, a £6 million fund for collaborations between educators and neuroscientists to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of neuroscience-based educational interventions.

An online survey of teachers conducted by the Wellcome Trust found that many teachers were optimistic about the ability of neuroscience to improve teaching practice over the next decade, but wanted interventions to be evidence-based rather than simply yet another strategy imposed upon schools.

It also found a number of different approaches and interventions currently in use. For example, many teachers say they are currently influenced by the idea of learning styles, i.e. that different students learn best when materials are presented in different ways. In the past, this has led to learners being labelled as, for example, ‘visual learners’, and having content delivered primarily visually, an approach which may actually be harmful to learning[1].

Some teachers also use commercially-developed interventions which claim to be based on neuroscience despite no systematic testing of such products. The most common of these is Brain Gym; however, there is little peer-reviewed evidence to show that this particular intervention is effective[2].

“Neuroscience is an exciting field that holds a great deal of promise both for understanding how our brains work and, through application, for improving how we learn and perform,” says Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust. “Neuroscientists and educators both recognise and wish to explore this potential. By bringing together our expertise and approaches, the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation hope to make this possible.”

Sir Peter Lampl, Chair of the Education Endowment Foundation 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.”

The two organisations are making available £6 million for research projects in which neuroscientists and educators collaborate to develop evidence-based interventions for use in the classroom and to test in a robust and rigorous manner existing tools or practices.

Examples of projects might include systematically testing the impact of different school start times or lengths of lessons or investigating the impact of listening to music in lessons.