Perspectives on tomorrow's education research from teachers and researchers

Teacher's attitudes towards Educational Neuroscience
Richard Newton-Chance

Learnus recently commissioned YouGov to survey teachers about their awareness of Educational Neuroscience 1

As an organisation, we are dedicated to improving the dialogue between teachers and  researchers and so wanted to find out about the levels of knowledge amongst teachers of the  opportunities for better understanding of how children learn that we think are offered by  educational neuroscience.

The survey was designed to give us a general view of the day-to-day concerns of teachers and  then to focus in on those who had heard of educational neuroscience. This gives us an idea of  how many teachers are already interested in its potential, before exploring their understanding  further.  It also gives us some idea of the available headroom in a profession already under  considerable stress.
The survey also provides us with evidence to help potential funders and policy makers  to understand the potential for school improvement in the work Learnus is doing. 

Fieldwork was undertaken online between 28th June and 19th July 2022 with 1,006 teachers and  senior leaders in state schools taking part.  There were 631 classroom teachers and 375 senior  leaders in the sample. The figures were then weighted to be representative of all teachers in the  UK by school type, teaching level, region, gender and age. 

Unsurprisingly, when asked about what concerned them most, teachers identified workloads as  the biggest issue they’re currently facing (42%), followed by funding cuts (19%) and student  behaviour (13%).  Given the relatively high number of senior leaders who took part, I am  surprised funding cuts didn’t come out higher. 

When asked about students’ learning, teachers identified behaviour (28%) and learning loss due  to the pandemic (17%) as the biggest factors affecting students’ progress.  Whether these  numbers would be replicated now, given the comparative return to normality, is open to question.  Behaviour is always an issue in schools, but there seems to have been a rise in behavioural issues  associated with students readjusting to full time schooling again.
Almost half (45%) think their school’s teacher development/ CPD provision is ine ffective, while a  similar proportion (43%) report they would like their school to dedicate more time to it. This is  despite the introduction of the Early Career Framework, which has replaced the NQT year with a  two year programme with a defined curriculum.  It remains the case that funding cuts have  squeezed CPD budgets from what was a comparatively low base in the first place.  More  enlightened jurisdictions put far more resource into supporting professional development and  make sure there is proper time allocated to it.
When asked about their development and CPD, a quarter say their school does not encourage  teachers to use different pedagogical approaches. Put another way, this means that nearly three  quarters of schools do, which is hugely encouraging.  Encouraging teachers to think about  different approaches to how they conduct their craft is at the heart of school improvement. 

The second part of the survey asked participants specifically about educational neuroscience.  We were very pleased to discover that one in three teachers said they were aware of educational  neuroscience, with almost half of those saying they are encouraged to implement its insights in  their classroom by their school.
The majority (76%) of teachers aware of educational neuroscience have found its insights useful in  their teaching. This probably has to be treated with caution, given the wide range of exposure to and understanding of the subject, but very encouraging nonetheless.

A majority of teachers(71%) agree that it is relevant to their professional development. This is a  message we clearly need to get over to policy makers. Currently the science of learning elements  of the Initial Teacher Education curriculum in universities and the Early Career Framework are  vanishingly small and mainly limited to memory. Over half of teachers believe it would be possible  to implement in their classroom in some form. A surprisingly large 40% feel that it underpins the  future of teaching.  This is very encouraging for those of us looking at the IFS report stating there  has been no progress in closing the disadvantage attainment gap in the last 20 years, despite it  being a clear policy focus for successive governments.  Surely a better understanding of how  children’s brains actually work might stop us perpetually trying very hard to do the same thing and  expecting a different outcome.  Educational neuroscience may not offer us all the answers, but it  certainly warrants more examination by teacher educators than is currently the case. Teaching is  both a science and an art. Too much teacher education regards it as an apprenticeship. 

One of our key objectives in conducting the survey was to provide evidence to support the next  phase in Learnus’ development. This is something we call the BiG (Building Impact Groups)  project.
In this country we have some of the best educational neuroscience research in the world and  some of the best teachers. What we don’t have, anywhere in the world, is a reliable and effective  way of getting them together to work out how best to turn research into improved teaching and  learning.  We are seeking funding for a time limited, carefully designed programme to achieve  exactly that. 

The outcome would be an established method for much better targeting of research on real  problems identified by classroom teachers. On the one hand we have researchers who have  great ideas, but don’t know what’s going on in the classroom, on the other we have teachers who  can’t make head nor tail of what the research means for their practice. years bogus ideas have crept into the vacuum, confusing teachers and creating the neuro-mythsUnfortunately over recent 2 that have bedevilled developments. 
The BiG project puts teachers and researchers in the same room to discuss a single topic and  hammer out a direction for research and practice. We believe this can make a significant  difference to both researchers understanding of the issues facing classroom teachers and  teachers ability to frame developments around what really matters to them. 

The full survey document “Teachers’ attitudes towards educational neuroscience” is available on  our website:

Our thanks to Learning Skills Research Foundation trustees who funded the work

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