The Spatial Reasoning Toolkit (we love the keyrings!)


Here at the CEN, we are very excited about the Spatial Reasoning Toolkit, developed by CEN members Emily Farran and Katie Gilligan-Lee (now at Surrey University and University College Dublin, respectively).

Spatial reasoning involves our interpretation of how things, including ourselves, relate to each other in space, and includes interpreting images and creating representations. We use spatial reasoning in our everyday lives and in many occupations. Importantly, spatial reasoning is strongly linked with achievement in mathematics.

Spatial reasoning can be taught and spatial experiences are particularly important for spatial development in early childhood. However, while research has demonstrated that spatial cognition has a fundamental causal role in success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects, its potential remains under-realised because spatial cognition is under-emphasised both in classroom practice and in education policy.

The Spatial Reasoning Toolkit provide resources to help educators support the development of children’s spatial reasoning in sensitive, age-appropriate and playful ways. At the CEN, we particularly love the spatial reasoning keyrings, which give a a quick and handy reference resource summarising the learning trajectories for spatial skills. They provide suggestions for activities to support the development of children’s spatial cognition from birth to 7 years and include spatial language prompts. We have been playing with the Shape Properties keyring ourselves (shown above), but there are also Movement & Navigation and Shape Composition & Construction versions available. You can make your own keyrings using the resources here.

Make time for space in your STEM education!

Here’s Emily describing the toolkit at a recent seminar:


New PhD Opportunity in Educational Neuroscience at University College Dublin


Dr. Katie Gilligan-Lee, an affiliate member of the CEN, is excited to be advertising a funded PhD position in educational neuroscience/developmental psychology at University College Dublin, Ireland. This PhD project will begin in September 2024 and will broadly investigate the role of spatial cognition for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) achievement. However, there will be flexibility in the design of specific studies and inclusion of additional research themes. The funding covers both a PhD stipend and fees.

Further information and details on how to apply can be found here. The deadline for applications is: 5pm May 17th 2024. Informal queries can be sent to Katie directly at

Project details: There is convincing evidence that spatial skills play an important role in STEM achievement. However, preliminary evidence suggests that this association may differ for children from different socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds. The goal of this project is to investigate the cognitive mechanisms that underpin spatial-STEM associations and explore the moderating effect of SES on these associations. Wider goals of the project are to promote children’s STEM success inside and outside of the classroom, and to reduce SES-based attainment gaps using cognitive intervention.

Supporting the Complex Needs of Children with Genetic Syndromes in Educational Practice: A New Online Resource for Teachers and Education Practitioners


The Neurodevelopmental Research (NDevR) lab recently launched a new teacher focused training resource: Supporting the Complex Needs of Children with Genetic Syndromes in Educational Practice ( Researchers Dr Jo Moss and Holly Snellgrove from the University of Surrey developed this novel, freely available e-resource in consultation with SENCOs, SEN teachers, parents, carers and educational psychologists. Its aim is to raise awareness and understanding of the complex needs of children with genetic syndromes associated with intellectual disability. In this blog, Jo and Holly give an overview of the inspiration behind the resource, and what it comprises.

“Children with neurodevelopmental conditions are known to experience poor developmental, health and wellbeing outcomes compared to neurotypical peers (Beadle-Brown et al. 2005). These inequalities are heightened in children with the most complex clinical presentations and particularly those with intellectual disability (ID) associated with rare genetic syndromes.

Currently rare genetic conditions account for approximately 50% of individuals with severe intellectual disability and 20% of individuals with a mild intellectual disability (Oliver & Woodcock, 2008). Therefore, it’s crucial that educational practitioners receive appropriate training and support to cater for the needs of children with genetic syndromes in classroom settings.

“At present, practitioners working in schools have very limited access to training and information about rare genetic syndromes”

At present, practitioners working in schools have very limited access to training and information regarding these syndromes and due to the rarity of the syndromes, they are unlikely to have significant experience of working with other children who have the same condition. Therefore, condensed and accessible information on genetic syndromes can be invaluable for practitioners (Waite et al, 2014).

The resource we developed features information on a range of topics that teachers/educational practitioners can work through at their own pace. It includes topics such as ‘Co-occurring Conditions’, ‘Understanding Behaviour’, ‘Individual Differences’, and ‘Support for Parents and Carers’.

The resource features informative text and infographics, videos from the research team, teachers, parents and an educational psychologist, links to further resources and reflective exercises. The content of the resource has been informed by research findings from various scientific studies, which can be accessed from the academic papers section.

The resource also has dedicated pages which signpost users to additional resources and useful support groups, both general and syndrome specific, that can enable users to identify further information and support resources.

We hope this resource will help teachers and educational practitioners to further develop their understanding of the ways that children with genetic syndromes can be supported in educational settings. Although the resource was designed primarily for education practitioners, others who support children with genetic syndromes may also find it useful, and it is therefore accessible to all.

The resource can be accessed via the following link:

The launch event can be found here.”


Update on MetaSENse: Evidence of increasing evaluation of ‘what works’ for students with SEND


In this article, Professor Jo van Herwegen and her team give an update on the latest findings from the MetaSENse project which is revisiting the evidence base for effective interventions for students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).

Background of the wider MetaSENse project

The number of pupils identified with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) continues to rise (DfE, 2021). Educational outcomes for those with SEND are often lower compared to those without SEND and this gap has become larger since 2020. This is likely due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Tuckett et al., 2022) and highlights the disparities for this population. Thus, it is important for parents, educators, specialist professionals and policymakers to understand the best evidence-based practice to raise educational outcomes in pupils with SEND.

The CEN’s MetaSENse[1] study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, is synthesising evidence of what remediations work across different pupils with SEND aged 4 to 25. Technically, the project is focusing on “manualised” (i.e., has a published and accessible manual) targeted intervention approaches (either Tier 2 or Tier 3) that go beyond good quality teaching. Tier 2 interventions are often provided in small-group sessions in the classroom during independent work or during times that do not conflict with other critical content areas. Tier 3 provides intensive intervention sessions for individual students with more significant needs or whose needs are not sufficiently met by Tier 2 supports.

In phase 1 of the project, the team is carrying out a systematic review of the empirical literature, followed by a meta-analysis of the data. In addition to analysing of the quality of the evidence base, this meta-analysis will, for the first time, inform which Tier 2 and Tier 3 manualised interventions work best (that is, have largest effect sizes) in relation to different phases of education (preschool, primary, secondary, post-16), and in different educational contexts (special vs mainstream). And this is being done for each category of SEND needs. In phase 2, the team is using in-depth interviews with educational professionals to identify the barriers they face in implementing the most effective practices indicated by the aforementioned evidence.

The project will have a practical outcome: we will produce a toolkit featuring a database that can inform practitioners about the evidence-base underpinning different interventions for pupils with SEND, and which interventions to select in different contexts according to pupils’ needs. This will allow parents, educators, specialist professionals and policymakers to make evidence-informed decisions about how to raise educational outcomes for those with SEND in cost-effective ways. By the same token, it will inform the future research agenda of academics and relevant funders.

Update on our findings: the number of RCTs and QeDs included in MetaSENse

Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) are seen as the ‘gold standard’ way of evaluating what works. In RCTs participants are randomly assigned to one of two groups: the experimental group receiving the intervention or the control group which either receives the business-as-usual support in the classroom or another type of activity (named active control trial) that is not of interest.

Quasi-experimental designs (QeDs) are studies in which two groups of subjects are matched based on one or more characteristics and one group receives the intervention, whilst the other does not and receives either business as usual or an active control intervention. The difference with RCTs is that in QEDs the groups are not randomly allocated.

Together, these two types of study form the best kind of evidence that tell us how effective interventions for SEND are, in what populations and in what contexts.

In our systematic review, we began by collating all the research papers that reported the outcome of evaluating interventions to improve educational abilities in children with SEND. Using our pre-registered search protocol, we identified 55,564 records for title and abstract, which we then screened to evaluate their relevance. We then screened 4323 full texts, as well as full texts from clearing houses, organisations which write composite reports of evidence. From this set, we identified 533 records of studies that meet our inclusion criteria for the systematic review: over 500 studies to review! This initial work demonstrates that there are now a large number of studies that have examined Tier 2 and Tier 3 manualised interventions to improve educational outcomes for those with SEND.

How did we decide which studies to consider? The studies we considered were all published between 1st of January 2000 and 27/02/2023. We only included RCTs and QeDs that were published in peer-reviewed journals or dedicated websites of clearing houses and charities. Student dissertations held by universities were not included. Studies had to include a manualised intervention and report at least one educational outcome related to maths, reading, writing, science or overall attainment. We only included studies that focused on individuals with an existing diagnosis, or if the study screened for a diagnosis using normed assessments. Studies that only included students at risk for SEND based on teacher report or general attainment outcomes were not included, because this might target a much more heterogeneous population. Finally, studies could be completed in any country as long as the text was available in English.

What have we found so far? As can be seen from Figure 1 below, there has been a steady increase in the number of studies that have evaluated which interventions work to improve educational outcomes for students with SEND. Despite the steady increase in study numbers, it is important to note that this represents research globally.

The next step is to extract findings from these studies and use statistics to characterise the overall patterns – an analysis of the analyses, otherwise known as a meta-analysis. We have only completed data extraction for 25% of all studies and so far, have identified relatively few studies that have been carried out in the UK. In addition, the number of RCTs and QeDs alone does not yet tell us anything about the quality of the evidence and whether this has improved over time. So, with data extraction and quality analysis of more than 350 studies still to go… watch this space!

Our interim finding, however, is that there is an encouraging increase over time in the number of studies applying the best evidence-based approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of educational interventions for children with SEND.

Figure 1. Number of studies per publication year for MetaSENse:  All studies include RCTs or QeDs related to improving educational outcomes for those with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.



More about MetaSENse

You can find out more about the MetaSENse study and research team here: MetaSENse

The metaSENse study is funded by the Nuffield Foundation: The Nuffield Foundation is an independent charitable trust with a mission to advance social well-being. It funds research that informs social policy, primarily in Education, Welfare, and Justice. It also funds student programmes that provide opportunities for young people to develop skills in quantitative and scientific methods. The Nuffield Foundation is the founder and co-funder of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the Ada Lovelace Institute and the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory. The Foundation has funded this project, but the views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the Foundation. Visit


[1] Raising educational outcomes for pupils with SEN and disabilities (MetaSENse)


DfE, June 2021:

Tuckett, S. et al., (2022). COVID-19 and Disadvantage Gaps in England 2021. Education Policy Institute,

“Did ChatGPT just ruin education?”


In this blog, Michael Thomas discusses the potential impact of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT on education.

Generative artificial intelligence, such as ChatGPT, is a form of AI that can generate human-like text based on a ‘large language model’ – information extracted from what is out on the internet. It can write essays and summarise facts, it can give feedback on written work and Excel formulae. There are versions that can generate other types of content, such as images from text, or music. I used DALL:E to generate the above image in response to the text prompt “draw a photorealistic picture of a university administrator thinking very hard about artificial intelligence” (I added the text!). Together, generative AI represents an immensely powerful tool.

In education, one of the principal methods of encouraging conceptual learning, developing writing skills, and assessing knowledge, is to ask students to independently write essays. However, students are now increasingly using generative AI in their work (see, e.g., this recent article from the BBC: ‘Most of our friends use AI in schoolwork‘). This is causing concern among educators and parents alike.

For educators, generative AI represents a significant challenge. Can teachers no longer use essays as an educational tool? Has a principal form of assessment been lost? Generative AI is immensely powerful but it has limitations: it generates plausible, ‘high probability’ text, not necessarily factually correct text, and the content it generates can be biased based on what the AI has found on the internet. Are students using a tool that leads them astray?

Like search engines, generative AI cannot be uninvented. Instead, students should be guided on how best to use generative AI to support their learning. But right now, students frequently know more about what generative AI can do than educators.

CEN Director Michael Thomas recently attended a meeting of the All Parliamentary Party Group (APPG) on Artificial Intelligence at the UK House of Lords, convened to discuss the potential impact (for better or worse) of generative artificial intelligence on education. He wrote a report of the meeting for the education think tank Learnus. The 3-page report can be found here.

Here are the main points from the report of the House of Lords meeting:

1. No one was panicking that AI robots were going to take over the world – although everyone recognised the downside risks of generative AI (e.g., inaccurate and biased content, age-inappropriate content, commercial ownership, data privacy). Instead, the main focus was on opportunities.

2. Among experts, there was a diverse range of views expressed on what tools like ChatGPT mean for education – all the way from ‘that don’t impress me’ to ‘it’s a steppingstone to utopia’. Some thought it on a par with the introduction of calculators to maths class, or of search engines for researching essays and projects: a helpful tool, necessitating some tweaking of teaching practice, but not much more. Others thought it would fundamentally alter educational practices and was an opportunity to democratise education – a tool to provide support for all.

3. The kids currently know much more than the teachers – pretty much everyone agreed that the most important first step is to improve teacher literacy on generative AI, to understand what these systems can (and can’t) do, and to begin to think about how they may be used. Perhaps the most important take-home for teachers and students alike is that you’ve got to know the limitations of the technology.

4. Guidance is beginning to emerge – institutions are thinking hard about the educational impact of generative AI, and some guidance is beginning to emerge (e.g., from the UK Department for Education and from the Russell Group of UK universities). As an example, this term, I gave a lecture to university psychology students on how they might use ChatGPT as a tool in their essay writing. I let them know what the chances are of getting caught if they simply use it to write their assessments (given that universities use AI detection tools, and that ChatGPT essays are reasonably easy to spot for content experts); and I also told them the very mediocre mark they would likely receive for an AI generated essay even if they didn’t get caught – because ChatGPT doesn’t write great essays. Here’s a slide summarising some tips:



There are many ways generative AI can be useful in education: to suggest initial ideas, to give feedback on text, to help second language learners improve their writing, for checking and recommending Excel formulae or computer code.

There are inevitably pitfalls we need to avoid (mostly linked to ensuring that content is unbiased and factually true, and that creativity is not stifled – ChatGPT will encourage you to write just like everyone else on the internet!).

But the broad message should be a positive one. In the same way that the invention of search engines gave everyone unprecedented access to vast stores of human knowledge (but ‘knowledge’ not to treated uncritically), generative AI can empower learners. The search is on for the best guidance to allow students to realise the potential of this new tool and avoid its pitfalls.

Did ChatGPT just ruin education? No, it gave education a powerful new tool, but with an instruction manual yet to be written.

New CEN book on how the brain works


The CEN has a new book out, written by CEN Director Michael Thomas and Simon Green, entitled ‘How the brain works: What psychology students need to know’. It provides an accessible overview of how the brain works useful to psychology students and to educators.

The book is published by Sage. For a 25% discount, use the code HTBW25 on the Sage website or on (valid until 31/12/24).

Michael says: “We wanted to write an accessible book on how the brain works. When psychology students or educators are introduced to the brain, the material often focuses on the Latin names for different structures, or how brain scanners work. As one student said to us, ‘I wanted to know why neurons communicate both electrically and chemically. I wanted to know why the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body. But whenever I asked these sorts of ‘why’ questions, the teacher kept saying, just learn it, it’s in the textbook’. Simon and I set out to write a book that gives an overall gist of how the brain works and why it works that way, which ultimately led us to placing the brain in its evolutionary context; and then showing how homo sapiens has subsequently stepped out of this context – in the main, through a cultural focus on education. The book shows how our minds have the peculiar properties they do because of how the brain works (including the way we learn); that the brain works the way it does because of biology; and that biology works the way it does because of evolution.”

For more on the book, see Michael and Simon’s recent interview in the Psychologist magazine. Supporting material for the book can be found here.

Avoiding the hype over early foreign language teaching


New CEN paper: Foreign language provision in English primary schools: making evidence-based pedagogical choices

Dr Sue Whiting and Prof. Chloë Marshall from the CEN have published a new paper in the journal Frontiers in Education. The paper aims to arm education professionals with a critical awareness of the (lack of) evidence supporting the bilingual advantage and innovative foreign language taster courses, to help them make evidence-based decisions regarding how to teach foreign languages in primary schools.

Here, lead author Sue Whiting discusses why certain widely held beliefs (e.g. that learning a second language confers an academic advantage, and that the younger-the-better maxim for naturalistic language learning is valid in classroom settings) are tempting some schools to explore unproven ways of teaching languages to 3-11 year olds.

Is foreign-language learning working?

Fluency in more than one language is clearly an advantage in our modern global age of multicultural societies. However, foreign language learning appears to be in crisis in countries where the majority of the population are English monolinguals, i.e., in Anglophone contexts. This has been attributed to the dominance of English as a global language giving rise to the perception that native English speakers do not need to learn other languages (Lanvers et al., 2021).

Despite a recent government initiative in England (Department for Education (DfE), 2013) to introduce foreign language teaching for one hour a week for Years 3-6 (Key Stage 2; KS2), a motivational crisis appears to start from about 11 years of age, once pupils enter secondary school (Lanvers & Martin, 2021): many pupils perceive learning a foreign language to be irrelevant, boring, difficult, and that ‘English is enough’ (Lanvers et al., 2021).

Does bilingualism itself help cognition?

In addition to any obvious personal, social, cultural and economic benefits of being fluent in two or more languages, there are also controversial claims that a ‘bilingual advantage’ leads to improved academic outcomes (Bialystok et al., 2009). This advantage purportedly arises when the skills that are acquired in coordinating two languages transfer to other, non-linguistic, mental processes relevant to learning in school and thereby improve educational outcomes. The research substantiating these claims, though, is mixed with generally only earlier studies, which usually involved only a small number of participants, revealing benefits (Duñabeitia & Carreiras, 2015; Paap et al., 2015, 2019; Van den Noort et al., 2019): lack of replicability is a particular issue (e.g., Bialystok & Martin, 2004; Shokrkon & Nicoladis, 2021).

The ‘bilingual advantage’ is not a robust effect

Many authors now consider that any bilingual advantage occurs only in ‘very specific and undetermined circumstances’ (Paap et al., 2015) and, in relation to academic performance, is likely to be a neuromyth (CEN, 2023). Furthermore, any benefit is likely to entail regularly engaging with the second language rather than experiencing it for just an hour a week in an artificial, classroom environment with little or no out-of-school exposure.

Beware the sales pitch

Nevertheless some language resource websites are targeting schools and caregivers with aggressive marketing of their products, by suggesting that all children learning foreign languages will gain such wide-reaching, general cognitive benefits in all circumstances. Some of the sale pitches appeal to notions of the brain (such as left-brain versus right-brain learning) that have been identified by other authors to be neuromyths (CEN, n.d.). Furthermore, claims far exceed what the current evidence shows, often citing newspapers’ headline catching articles or online articles written by non-specialists.

Against the backdrop of the disappointing results from the current KS2 Foreign Languages policy, such bilingual advantage claims are encouraging some schools not governed by KS2 regulations, i.e., state schools [Early Years to Year 2 (3–7 years of age)] and independent schools (3–11 years of age) to explore unproven ways of teaching foreign languages so their pupils may enjoy enhanced cognitive ability and academic success.

Here’s what doesn’t work

One unproven, and previously discredited, idea resurrected from the 1980s, albeit with older children, is that of schools giving young children a superficial exposure to multiple foreign languages in the belief that they will become natural linguists with native-like speech in numerous foreign languages. This is despite a lack of evidence from either research into a younger-the-better advantage for classroom language learning (Lightbown & Spada, 2020; Mitchell & Myles, 2019; Myles, 2017) or from language awareness research that superficial exposure to multiple languages would support learning (HMI, 1990, para. 66).

There are huge challenges in transferring the rich, immersive, native-language learning environment, where young children learn by ‘doing’ along with access to many hours a day of high-quality input from multiple social interactions, to the formal foreign language learning primary school classroom that typically provides just one hour of exposure each week. The arguments against providing a shallow exposure of several languages are as valid today as in 1990 when the HMI Language Courses Report concluded that ‘short, watered down, fragmented and thin experiences in too many languages’ provided ‘an utterly inadequate base for mastering practical communication skills in any one language and developing proficiency therein’. Then, as now, a policy of continuous exposure to just one foreign language is considered to be superior.

How to judge a good method for teaching foreign languages

We end our paper by recommending that schools should be extremely wary of being persuaded to be the first school to try something innovative when it is sold as being ‘ahead of the game’, or to take part in a research project for which they have to pay. We provide some objective criteria to help schools, from early years settings to the end of primary, to judge the efficacy of unproven methods of teaching foreign languages (or, indeed, other subjects) before adopting them. Here are our top five recommendations:

  1. Remember, a product sold as ‘ahead of the game’ often means untried and untested
  2. Approach other schools already using the innovative protocol to establish what quantifiable outcomes can be reasonably expected
  3. Check the credentials and qualifications of the person making the proposal. Has the Education Endowment Foundation evaluated the proposed pedagogic approach?
  4. If the innovative scheme is sold as a ‘research project’ then it would have been approved by the relevant university’s Ethics Committee. External funding will usually be available, too, in which case there should be no costs to the school in the form of expenses or for consultancy fees.
  5. Schools should consult with, and request approval from, their board of governors. The Primary Languages Policy white paper recommends developing ‘effective partnerships between head teachers and governors’  (Holmes & Myles, 2019, p. 13, p. 16). Boards often have the diverse experience to properly interrogate innovate schemes for educational provision.


Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., Green, D. W., & Gollan, T. H. (2009). Bilingual Minds. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 10(3), 89–129.

CEN, (2023). Learning two languages gives an advantage at school | Centre for Educational Neuroscience

CEN, (n.d.). Left brain versus right brain thinkers | Centre for Educational Neuroscience

Department for Education (DfE) (2013). Languages programmes of study: key stage 2 National curriculum in England. Available here (Accessed July 15, 2023).

Duñabeitia, J. A., & Carreiras, M. (2015). The bilingual advantage: acta est fabula? Cortex, 73, 371-372. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2015.06.009

HMI (1990). A survey of language awareness and foreign language taster courses. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office 1990. Available here (Accessed July 15, 2023)

Lanvers, U., & Martin, C. (2021). Choosing language options at secondary school in England. In U. Lanvers, A. S. Thompson, & M. East (Eds.), Language Learning in Anglophone Countries (pp. 89–115). Palgrave Macmillan.

Lanvers, U., Thompson, A. S., & East, M. (2021). Introduction: is language learning in Anglophone countries in crisis? In U. Lanvers, A. S. Thompson, & M. East (Eds.), Language Learning in Anglophone Countries (pp. 1–13). Palgrave Macmillan.

Lightbown, P. M., & Spada, N. (2020). Teaching and learning L2 in the classroom: it’s about time. Language Teaching, 53, 422–432.

Mitchell, R., & Myles, F. (2019). Learning French in the UK setting: policy, classroom engagement and attainable learning outcomes. Apples Journal of Applied Language Studies, 13(1), pp. 69–93.

Myles, F. (2017). Learning foreign languages in primary schools: is younger better? Languages, Society & Policy, 1(1), 1–8.

Noort, M. Van Den, Struys, E., Bosch, P., Jaswetz, L., Perriard, B., Yeo, S., … Lim, S. (2019). Does the bilingual advantage in cognitive control exist and if so, what are its modulating factors? Behavioral Sciences, 9(27), 1–30.

Paap, K. R., Johnson, H. A., & Sawi, O. (2015). Bilingual advantages in executive functioning either do not exist or are restricted to very specific and undetermined circumstances. Cortex, 69, 265–278.

Paap, K. R., Schwieter, J., & Paradis, M. (2019). The bilingual advantage debate: quantity and quality of the evidence. In J. W. Schwieter (Ed.), The handbook of the neuroscience of multilingualism (pp. 701–735). London:Wiley-Blackwell.

Shokrkon, A., & Nicoladis, E. (2021). Absence of a bilingual cognitive flexibility advantage: a replication study in preschoolers. PLoS ONE, 16(8), 14–18.

Van den Noort,M., Struys, E., Bosch, P., Jaswetz, L., Perriard, B., Yeo, S., … Lim, S. (2019). Does the bilingual advantage in cognitive control exist and if so, what are its modulating factors? Behavioral Sciences, 9(27), 1–30.



Neuromyths – new and improved


Our team has been hard at work updating our existing articles about common neuromyths (‘Neuro-hit or neuro-myth?’) to reflect the most up-to-date evidence. You’ll be relieved to hear that nothing has flipped from myth to fact or vice versa! So far, six articles have been updated, and the rest will follow over the coming months. Look out for the ‘Now Updated’ button to catch up on what the most current evidence is for each topic – some changes have been quite small, while other articles have had major rewrites!

Here are some highlights of the changes and additions:

  • Is ADHD on the rise in UK schools? This article now reflects changes to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual [DSM]” – that’s how conditions are officially defined – which now allow individuals to be diagnosed with both ADHD and autism. We’ve added new content on contemporary research into sex differences in ADHD. The article also has a new title, a new image, and some rephrasing to improve inclusivity of the language.
  • Diet makes a difference to learning. Our additions to this article include evidence regarding the links between breakfast consumption and GCSE point scores, and the longer-term effects of healthier diet.
  • Mindfulness has a place in the classroom. We’ve extensively revised this article in light of evidence from a recent large-scale trial with teenagers in UK schools. The overall verdict has been changed to ‘It’s complicated’. Two outdated external resources have been removed and a newer resource on implementing mindfulness in schools has been added instead.
  • Girls and boys have different cognitive abilities. Throughout the article, language has been changed to reflect distinctions between sex and gender roles present in contemporary literature, with a note defining how the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ were used in the article. We’ve added references to new research on topics that include: eye gaze strategies and gender identity on tests of mental rotation; math anxiety; and the role of cultural gender-egalitarian values in academic achievement. Lastly, we’ve added a new resource from the Women and Equalities Committee featuring lots of reports on sex differences in education and employment.
  • Well-rested children do better at school. We’ve added new findings on the role of delayed school start times in academic outcomes, sleep disruptions in neurodevelopmental conditions, and sleep benefits for explicit memory (i.e., learning facts!) in children.
  • Learning two languages gives an advantage at school. This revised article now features some reframing of content regarding the debate over the potential bilingual advantage in executive functioning skills. We’ve also dug into some of the finer details of methods in the studies, considering the diversity of multilinguals as a group.

We hope you enjoy catching up on the new evidence as much as we have!

If you’re hungry for more neuromyths content, or perhaps a bit time-poor for a full article, we are also currently releasing a series of videos that distil the major points from these updated pages to less than a minute each. The videos will be going out on our Twitter (@UoL_CEN) and our brand new TikTok page (@educationalneuroscience). Take a look and let us know if you like them!

New edneuro book – interview with the author!


The CEN interviewed Cathy Rogers, one of the authors of the new book “Educational Neuroscience: The Basics”.

We asked Cathy:

CEN: Cathy, what made you want to write this book? Why did you think it was needed?

The field of educational neuroscience still has a lot of work to do to effectively communicate what it is all about. This is especially true for communicating with people outside academia – teachers and educators in particular since educational neuroscience is nothing without them. In the longer term, we might also want to ditch the name ‘educational neuroscience’ as it is stuffy and uninspiring, as well as sounding very academic – that’s no good for a field that wants to build a meaningful partnership between educators and researchers.

We had two main goals for the book: one was to squish a load of science and jargon into something hopefully useful for teachers in their classroom practice. The other was to give a rallying cry for everyone involved in education to work together to improve it. With evidence.

CEN: What are three key takeaways from the book, for teachers and parents?

Number one, affective and social neuroscience (that is, dealing with our emotions and dealing with other people) are as important, if not more important, than cognitive neuroscience (dealing with thinking) for education. I think that teachers understand this from their day-to-day dealings with students but those broader aspects of education often don’t get the attention they deserve. We hope that positioning social and emotional aspects as fundamental to effective learning at the level of the brain will help the reinforce their case.

Number two, metacognition – thinking about our thinking – has the potential to be a hugely valuable, and currently underused, tool for teachers. This might be particularly true for adolescents who have greater knowledge and experience of their own thinking, along with the high levels of brain plasticity to change it. Helping students see thinking and learning as deliberate, structured, visible processes, with patterns and practices they can learn and develop – is potentially empowering for them and transferable across many types of learning.

Number three, everything about thinking and learning is dynamic and active. Whereas in the past, we have thought about ‘boxes’ of knowledge and ‘files’ of memory, now we know better!

CEN: What was the most surprising fact about the brain you found out while researching the book?

I think the most surprising thing is the sheer extent of how much our brains like to make things automatic. I have this mental image now of my brain as a rather over-zealous rule-creator, jumping in, sometimes a bit too soon, like someone clearing away my plate the second I’ve eaten my last mouthful. There it is, trying to spot patterns and make things predictable, trying to be helpful of course, make it automatic, so I don’t have to think. I see a new job for myself in keeping an eye on it! Making sure the rules it’s putting in place are ones I want – because we all know just how hard it is to break a habit.

CEN: So Cathy, what’s your next project?

I’m working on a few different things at the moment. One is another book project but in a very different vein – it’s an illustrated book for children about the future which is sort of utopian-but-science-based. Another is very much educational neuroscience in practice – helping develop clear, evidence-based guidance for how to teach adult literacy to women who missed out on education as children. We’d also, at some point, like to work on a follow up to this book: whereas this book is mostly about the consistencies of how brains work, the next would be all about what makes every brain different.

CEN: Thank you, Cathy, and good luck with book!

Trends and takeaways from the International Mind Brain and Education Society conference 2022


Educational Neuroscience faces some unique challenges. What research should we conduct to best benefit the classroom? How can we bridge the gap between education and neuroscience? How can research meet the needs of educators and vice versa?

These were just some of the questions raised at the recent International Mind Brain and Education Society (IMBES) conference, hosted in Montreal, Canada, in July 2022. IMBES is the North American home of educational neuroscience and a society where researchers and educators can come together to learn about cutting-edge research and reflect on challenges in the field.

In this blog, PhD student Lucy Palmer summarises some of the key takeaways from the conference, including hot topics of research, practical tips for developing transferable skills and the most interesting points of discussion.

What’s hot?

The IMBES conference provided a rich timetable of symposia on a variety of themes. This year’s symposia included research on topics such as curiosity, spatial thinking, neurodevelopmental conditions, mindset, science and maths learning and many more! For those interested in executive function, one of several brilliant symposia exploring the relationship between executive function and maths in early childhood had to be postponed, but was recently presented as part of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience seminar series on the 3rd November 2022. A recording can be found here.

How do I get my message across?

Given the importance of the dialogue between educators and researchers, communication is key in educational neuroscience – but how can we continually develop these skills? To address this, the IMBES pre-conference focussed on improving communication skills, as well as opening up a debate on the following topics:

  1. What do educators need from researchers?
  2. What do researchers need from educators?
  3. How can these needs be addressed in educational neuroscience research?
  4. How can we improve communication between educators and researchers?

Many ideas were explored from both a research and education perspective. Practical topics were discussed for carrying out research in schools, such as easier administration, improved consent forms, building consistent relationships between educators/schools and research and ensuring interventions are appropriate for the target age groups. A greater understanding of the nuts and bolts of the research process was discussed at length, which led to ideas on how to improve communication between researchers and educators.

The pre-conference also hosted workshops with practical tips for improving one’s communication skills. These skills do not develop in great leaps, but in small steps with consistent practise. Here are some short (tried and tested!) exercises that anyone can apply!

  1. Take 5 minutes to write down a title for a hypothetical article which explains your own work/job role. This title must not include any jargon and ideally use a question to create engagement. Ask a friend/colleague to read it and give feedback.
  2. Improvise a three minute pitch talk on a project you are working on right now. You could start with recording it and build up to presenting it in front of a colleague/friend.
  3. Write a tweet summarise a current project you are working on (i.e. less than 280 characters).
  4. Write a blog! Birkbeck Alumna Annie Brookman-Byrne shared her tips on writing for a wider audience at the conference, based on her experience writing and editing for the BOLD journal ( She highlighted how to include a personal story and use circular writing (starting and ending your writing on a similar theme). She also explained the “and/but/therefore” structure and using questions to create interesting and engaging titles.

If you have your own tips for improving communication skills, do let us know in the comments section below.

What does the future of education look like?

A key theme underlying the ethos of IMBES is that of collaboration. Therefore, no symposium was more appropriate than that on UNESCO’s International Scientific Evidence-Based Education Assessment (ISEEA). ISEEA is a multi-disciplinary collaboration which aims to pool together vast amounts of information regarding all aspects of education, to answer urgent and important questions surrounding current education systems around the world, such as:

  1. Is the current education system serving the right purpose?
  2. Is the current education system supporting learners in facing contemporary challenges and meeting societal needs?
  3. How can research be used to improve the educational system?
  4. How should data be used in educational policy making?

In order to try and answer these questions, the ISEEA have consequently created a scientifically credible assessment. Their final report spanned 1,500 pages – but a digestible version with take-home messages and policy recommendations can be found here.

The findings from this assessment show that personalised education is key, and emphasise the vital role both cognition and emotion play in learning. Although we are far from having all the answers, the conference was an excellent platform for researchers and educators to discuss issues and solutions arising from the report on the future of education systems.

We are also interested to hear what you think. What do you think the purpose of education is?  Is it to improve the economy, human flourishing or something else? Do you think the current education system in your country achieves this? How would you improve it?

We would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. The more these problems are discussed and reflected upon, the closer we get to tackling them.

If you are curious about IMBES, current research in the Mind Brain Education (MBE) journal, or would like to keep an eye out for details of the next conference, check out the IMBES website!