Learning to Learn

Meta-cognitive interventions are one of the most cost-effective things teachers and schools can do, according to the Sutton Trust and the EEF toolkit.

But how do we help pupils become better learners?  This is the subject of a rigorous longitudinal study by James Mannion and Neil Mercer (2016), at the University of Cambridge.

They develop and test an interesting approach – and it yields results. Pupils who engage in their ‘learning to learn’ programme, do better at GCSE.  This is particularly true for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Like my own research in to the effect of leadership and culture (Connolly, 2015), they find it is a complex mixture of approaches that impact on results. In particular they focus on a curriculum to teach the following methods:

  • Self Regulation
  • Meta-Cognition
  • Oral Communication
  • A Shared Language of Learning
  • Collaboration
  • A Plan for Transfer

In his very influential synthesis, John Hattie (2003) suggests that approximately 50 percent of pupils’ attainment is due to home and pupil factors. Looking at parts of this curriculum, perhaps ‘learning to learn’ is the start of a fruitful look at how schools can engage with those factors.  Certainly, the UK is behind the curve on this – New Zealand placed ‘Learning to Learn’ on the curriculum many years ago.  Mannion and Mercer’s paper is a very welcome development in English education.


Connolly, V. (2015). Leadership, School Culture and Attainment: a secondary data analysis of TALIS 2013 (England) (MPhil). University of Cambridge, Cambridge.

Hattie, J. (2003). Teachers Make a Difference, What is the research evidence? Camberwell VIC: Australian Council Educational Research. Retrieved from http://www.acer.edu.au/documents/RC2003_Hattie_TeachersMakeADifference.pdf

Mannion, J., & Mercer, N. (2016). Learning to learn: improving attainment, closing the gap at Key Stage 3. The Curriculum Journal, 27(2), 246–271. http://doi.org/10.1080/09585176.2015.1137778

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