Skip navigation

Site Map / Contact

You are in:  Home » The LWL Project and Book

This site uses cookies. If you continue it is assumed that you are happy to receive all cookies. Accept and close. View privacy policy

The First LWL Project and Book

Cover of Learning without Limits

Learning Without Limits study 1999-2004

The first research study was set up in 1999 at the School of Education, University of Cambridge. It was funded by the Wallenberg Foundation for the Improvement of Education, and also by the Faculty of Education Research and Development Fund.

Details of the study are set out in our book, Learning Without Limits (Hart, Dixon, Drummond and McIntyre, 2004), published by Open University Press. In 2005, the book received an award from the Society for Education Studies, as one of the 'outstanding books on education published in the previous year'.

Research Team

University Researchers:

Original LWL Research Group

Annabelle Dixon, Mary Jane Drummond, Susan Hart, Donald McIntyre.

Teacher Researchers:

Narinder Brach, Claire Conway, Nicola Madigan, Julie Marshall, Alison Peacock, Anne Reay, Yahi Tahibet, Non Worrall, Patrick Yarker.

Purposes of the study

  • Part of our aim was to re-open debates about the effects of ability labelling and ability focused practices at a time when teachers were being actively encouraged, by DfES sponsored models of good practice, to use these ways of thinking to plan and organise their teaching.
  • We also wanted to be in a position to offer alternative models of practice that do not rely on ability labelling. Although there is a vast literature on the effects on ability-based thinking and practice, there were no publicly available, clearly articulated alternatives to ability-based pedagogy.

Voice for teachers

Through the study we hoped to give a voice to - and provide active support for - teachers who were aware of the potentially detrimental effects of ability labelling and who were attempting to develop classroom practices free from determinist beliefs about 'ability'.

Research Strategy

Our research strategy was to bring together a group of teachers who had rejected ideas of fixed ability and to study their practice, in order to explore and try to identify what was distinctive about teaching free from ability labelling. The nine case studies of their thinking and practice in Learning without Limits retain the vibrancy of classroom life. For information visit the original project research methods page.

Key findings: The core idea of 'transformability'

We found that the inspiration and driving force at the heart of these teachers' work was a conception of the relationship between present and future that we have called 'transformability': a firm and unswerving conviction that there is the potential for change in current patterns of achievement and response, that things can change and be changed for the better, sometimes even dramatically, as a result of what people do in the present. In contrast with the implied fatalism of ability labels, these teachers built their pedagogy around a belief that the future is in the making in the present, that teachers can help to strengthen and ultimately transform young people's capacity to learn through the choices they make.

A joint enterprise

These teachers knew, however, that in order to realise their own power to make a difference they needed to connect with and harness young people's own power to make a difference to their future lives. The guiding principle of transformability can only be achieved through what teachers and young people do together in what is necessarily a joint enterprise.

Pedagogy of transformability

The core purposes (affective, social and cognitive) and principles ('everybody', 'co-agency', 'trust') summarise the practical, pedagogical means through which teachers seek to strengthen and transform young people's capacity to learn; they explain how the teachers worked systematically to build, strengthen and restore the positive states of mind needed if young people are to choose to engage and sustain the effortful activity that worthwhile, personally meaningful learning requires. More detail can be found by following the links to Key Ideas and Principles.

In Memoriam

Two members of the original research team, Professor Donald McIntyre and Annabelle Dixon (see Cambridge Journal of Education Vol 36 No 1 pp1-2 Taylor and Francis publishers), sadly have died since the first study was carried out. Both had a passionate, life-long commitment to education and long-standing concerns about the impact of ability labelling on young people's learning in schools. Both have made a unique and irreplaceable contribution to the Learning Without Limits Project.