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'From brain scan to lesson plan?' Millions for neuroscience research in UK classrooms

The UK is pioneering the way neuroscience can be applied in the classroom with the launch of a £6m fund for research.

Research organisations the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) announced today that they aim to set up 10 projects in hundreds of schools over the next few years to test whether the growing field of knowledge about how the brain works can improve learning.

Ideas which have their roots in neuroscience, such as having later school start times for teenagers, are among the projects which could be tested.

Dr Kevan Collins, chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, told TES: “Researchers in Great Britain are at the leading edge of neuroscience. World-beating work is being done here.

"The EEF has established a good model for conducting educational research and we wanted to bring the two together. We wanted to ask whether there is anything to learn from neuroscience that can be applied to the classroom that would make a real difference to students.”

Dr Paul Howard-Jones, reader in neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, welcomed the news. “Teachers have a natural enthusiasm for neuroscience. They are professionals with a unique daily responsibility for developing the connectivity, function and structure of the brains of their students," he said.

“But there is no neuroscience in teacher training and, as a result, the teaching profession is vulnerable to neuromyths because there are a lot of entrepreneurs with skilful marketing techniques .

“Around the world, governments are aware that there is massive potential in neuroscience to improve educational practice and policy, but it’s not a simple task. You can’t go directly from brain scan to lesson plan.

“Having this funding is going to be a massive boost. I don’t think that there is a comparable programme in the world. It is a fantastic opportunity for education in the UK.”

Dr Hilary Leevers, head of education and learning at the Wellcome Trust, explained on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that the new project would not necessarily mean huge changes in classroom practice, but was about providing scientific evidence on what works.

For example, teachers already leave gaps between repeating information – maybe using a plenary session 40 minutes after an idea is first introduced - but neuroscience could help inform the best way to do this.

“At the moment these ideas are being used in the classroom without having been systematically tested,” she said.

Dr Collins added: “General insights from neuroscience don’t necessarily link to what you do as a teacher. We want to make sure independent research is available.”

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