Birkbeck University of London (UK) Only a third of teachers aware of educational neuroscience, despite its effectiveness in improving outcomes

The results of a new study commissioned by the Birkbeck-UCL Centre of Educational Neuroscience and think tank, Learnus, reveal what teachers feel about professional and educational opportunities offered by neuroscience.

A survey of over 1,000 teachers and senior leaders in state schools has found 1 in 3 teachers do not know what educational neuroscience is, whilst 76% of teachers aware of it have found its insights useful in their teaching. This is despite evidence that it can improve teaching and learning outcomes.   

The survey, carried out by YouGov on behalf of the Birkbeck-UCL Centre for Educational Neuroscience and think tank Learnus, explored what teachers felt about the professional and educational opportunities afforded by educational neuroscience, and also uncovered information about barriers to professional development faced by teachers. 

Educational neuroscience, the study of how the brain learns, can be a highly effective way of enhancing teaching and learning. When asked what elements would need to change to implement insights from educational neuroscience, 46% of teachers cited workload, and 36% needing greater knowledge of educational neuroscience. 

Further findings of the survey show that of those who felt that educational neuroscience could be implemented in the classroom, 59% said they would need practical guidance about applying the techniques to implement it into their teaching.  

The full results of the survey were published at a House of Lords reception on Tuesday 29 November, alongside the launch of The Building Impact Groups (BiG) Project, an initiative designed to improve the ways in which science is used to enhance teaching and learning. The BiG initiative, which will run for three years, will establish a hub to drive innovation in education, bringing together over a hundred educators and researchers to support the integration of the new science of learning into the classroom. 

Michael Thomas, Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Birkbeck and Director of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience, commented:  

“Enthusiasm for the importance of neuroscience in education is not enough on its own. We need to develop the evidence base for its use in classrooms. With evidence that the attainment gap between poorer pupils and their better-off classmates has not closed over the last 20 years and steep rises in the number of children needing catch-up support following the pandemic, this is more important than it has ever been.  

“The BiG project will address this by establishing the world’s first innovation hub for researchers and educators. There are many signs that the time is right for this kind of initiative. Globally, UNESCO have launched a new report on the future of education, stressing the importance of a scientific and evidence-based approach, of a whole-brain learner-centric approach towards learning, and of multidisciplinary dialogue. 

Richard Newton-Chance, Chair of the Learnus Council, added: “Given the recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that there has been no improvement in the school attainment gap in England for over 20 years, it is clearly urgent for educators to look at new ways of enhancing the teaching and learning experience in this country. Educational neuroscience is logically one of the new ways. 

“Our survey results show that teachers are clearly most concerned about their workload and the other pressures of classroom. While a third of those surveyed had heard of educational neuroscience and among them, the majority have found its insights useful in their teaching, teachers are in need of practical guidance that can be simply built into their profession without adding to their workloads.”