December 2013


  • Education's five key aims
    Every parent wants their child to go to a good school and politicians and policy makers share a s similar ambition to ensure that all schools are good. So how do we make it happen? More
  • Expanding horizons
    Bill Lucas explores the concept of expansive education and what it means for teaching and learning. More
  • Life after levels?
    The government’s decision to abandon levels and leave individual schools to decide how to measure progress is understandably causing concern. However, says Andrew Thraves, many schools are already planning for a life without levels and some schools have already adopted a new system of day-to-day assessment. More
  • Clubbing together
    Youth workers who help with mentoring, PSHE and after-school clubs can also be a powerful tool in keeping students motivated and on track with learning. Dorothy Lepkowska reports. More
  • Revision time
    The introduction of performance-related pay, although controversial, offers an ideal opportunity for fresh thinking on how leaders manage change, says Edward Gildea. More
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Bill Lucas explores the concept of expansive education and what it means for teaching and learning.

Expanding horizons

The core purpose of education is, surely, to give all young people the confidence and capacity to fl ourish in the world that they are going to inhabit. Given that none of us has much idea, for any particular child, what his or her world will be like or what specific skills or knowledge they are going to need in ten or 50 years from now, we have to find goals for education that are at a deeper, more generic level.

But it is a fair bet that, wherever they are, young people will need, among other things, to be able to:

  • make discerning lifestyle choices
  • make, maintain and repair friendships
  • discover forms of work that are fulfilling
  • enjoy enriching their lives through conversation, reading and culture
  • face uncertainty with calm intelligence and resourcefulness

We think that the development of such capabilities or dispositions – what we refer to as ‘dispositional teaching’ – form the nub of the deeper goals I referred to above. By dispositional teaching, we mean approaches that explicitly seek to cultivate the kinds of dispositions we have just listed above at the same time as growing magnificent mathematicians, wonderful writers, great geographers and so on.

Such dispositions are, in effect, the core curriculum of any 21st-century educational system. And the main challenge for all leaders is to lead an institution that delivers these wider goals as well as jumping through whatever hoops any secretary of state for education may place along the way. In our recent book, Expansive Education: Teaching learners for the real world (Lucas, B, Claxton, C and Spencer, E, 2013), we have assembled case studies of promising practices from across the world, as well as the underpinning research evidence for the effectiveness of the approaches that they have adopted.

Four aspects of expansive education

Three years ago, Guy Claxton and I coined the phrase ‘expansive education’ to describe approaches to teaching and learning that are dispositional. Expansive education is expansive in four senses.

First, it seeks to expand the goals of education. Traditionally, a school frames its success in terms of its exam results, by the kinds of university destinations of its students or by its Ofsted ratings. While its students’ achievements on the sports field and in the concert hall may also feature, how they fared after leaving – whether they had genuinely been prepared for the rigours of further study, vocational training and the informal challenges and demands of life – was little monitored and hence little valued.

Expansive educators recognise these traditional ‘success criteria’, but insist on adding some more: the extent to which young people’s horizons have been broadened so that they have really been prepared to thrive in the face of the uncertainties of life.

Second, ‘expansive’ means expanding learners’ capacity to deal with whatever life throws at them. Whereas traditional educators tend to see young people’s capacity to think and learn as relatively fixed – they talk about students as if they were simply ‘bright’, ‘average’ or ‘less able’ – expansive educators focus on the extent to which our psychological capacities are themselves capable of being stretched and strengthened. What David Perkins has called ‘the emerging science of learnable intelligence’ has made it clear that a good part of people’s so-called intelligence is actually made up of mental habits that can be developed in positive ways.

We know that willpower, for example, behaves exactly like a mental muscle that can be strengthened by exercise, and depleted through use. Likewise resilience, concentration, imagination and collaboration are all qualities of mind that can be coached and cultivated. The science enables teachers to think of themselves as coaches of the capacities to think and learn.

Guy and I explored ourselves, at some length, the many ways in which schools are beginning to draw on an enriched conception of intelligence in our earlier book New Kinds of Smart: How the science of learnable intelligence is changing education, and there is a growing repertoire of well-researched methods that can be used to cultivate thinking and learning.

Third, we are expanding our compass beyond the school gates. Expansive education assumes that rich learning opportunities abound in young people’s other lives of music, sport, community and family activity. Expansive educators see parental engagement as a sine qua non of successful schooling, not as an annual, largely symbolic, home–school agreement. They actively seek to recruit families in helping to cultivate the kinds of dispositions that will serve their members well, both at school and in later life. They see parents as learners, fellow teachers and partners.

And fourth, expansive education has profound implications for expanding the role of teachers. Just as a central clutch of desirable dispositions in young people involves experimenting, noticing, critical thinking, questioning, reflecting and adapting, so the same is true for teachers. Teachers who exhibit these capabilities produce better educational outcomes. John Hattie, Professor of Education, puts his finger on it most deftly: “The remarkable feature of the evidence is that the biggest effects on student learning occur when teachers become learners of their own teaching, and when students become their own teachers.”

Expansive educators move beyond reflective practice to adopt a more scientific and rigorous mindset with respect to all of their teaching, becoming better observers of their own affect on students and more interested in sharing their findings with other colleagues.

The Expansive Education Network (eedNET)

eedNET is a web-based professional learning community supported in England by the Comino Foundation. It currently has approximately 300 school and 1,200 teacher members. It brings together school leaders, teachers and other educators for whom the four aspects of expansive education I described earlier really matter. Supported by a network of universities and pioneering educational organisations, teachers learn how to undertake, publish and then share their own action research. Sessions are run regionally and are available online.

By initiating and rigorously evaluating small-scale attempts to teach more expansively, teachers discover the truth of John Hattie’s remark that the biggest results occur when teachers “become learners of their own teaching”.

They find out how, for example, students can become more resilient when a teacher stops answering their routine questions and equips them better to find out their own answers. They realise the significant benefits to learners when the curriculum is presented in a series of well-structured enquiries. They appreciate the significant gains in motivation and performance when feedback and praise are offered to students on the basis of their specific endeavours and in ways that encourage what Carol Dweck calls “growth mindsets” rather than in more generalised “person” praise.

In his foreword to Expansive Education: Teaching learners for the real world, Habits of Mind creator Art Costa catches a mood of considerable optimism when he writes of “a kind of ‘intellectual spring’, brought on by the realisation that a country’s future in the 21st century and beyond depends on its people’s creativity, problem solving, communication and collaboration. This creates new imperatives for education systems.”

We hope all school and college leaders will want to implement just these kinds of expansive imperatives.

Professor Bill Lucas is Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester. Contact him via

The Expansive Education Network can be found at

Expansive Education: Teaching learners for the real world, written with Guy Claxton and Ellen Spencer, has just been published.