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.

Notes for editors

References

1. Kratzig GP, Arbuthnott KD. Perceptual learning style and learning proficiency: a test of the hypothesis. J Ed Psych 2006;98:238-46.

Geake J. Neuromythologies in education. Ed Res 2008;50:123-33.

2. Spaulding LS, Mostert MP, Beam AP. Is Brain Gym an Effective Educational Intervention? Exceptionality 2010;18:18-30.

Education and Neuroscience: Using insight from neuroscience to improve education

Education and Neuroscience is a new funding initiative, launched by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation in January 2014. This one-off scheme aims to develop, evaluate and communicate the impact of education interventions grounded in neuroscience research. Details are available on the Education Endowment Foundation website.

About the Education Endowment Foundation

The Education Endowment Foundation is a charity set up in 2011 by the Sutton Trust as lead foundation in partnership with Impetus Trust, with a Department for Education grant of £125m. It is dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement. Since its launch the EEF has awarded £35.9 million to 68 projects working with over 440,000 pupils in over 2,200 schools across England.

About the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to achieving extraordinary improvements in human and animal health. It supports the brightest minds in biomedical research and the medical humanities. The Trust’s breadth of support includes public engagement, education and the application of research to improve health. It is independent of both political and commercial interests.