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Creating Learning Without Limits Project


This research project explores what happens when a school has the courage to organise and develop in accordance with its own values and beliefs about how people learn. It examines the learning of both staff and children, across a whole school, as they worked together over a period of two years, determined to find a better way of living and learning together as a community, in an environment free from determinist beliefs about ability.

In collaboration with colleagues at The Wroxham School, Hertfordshire, the project set out to explore the wider possibilities for enhancing learning capacity that comes within teachers' remit when a group of staff work together to identify and lift limits on learning of the whole school community. The research will interest all those who have a stake in how contemporary education and practice affect children's future lives and life chances. It demonstrates persuasively that there is another way, and that this other way can lead to the development of practices altogether more humane, equitable and life-enhancing for everyone.

The research is funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Hertfordshire Local Authority.

Aims of the project

It is only where children can grow in an environment where they experience continuous and sustained support for the development of their learning capacity, that we can expect a 'learning without limits' pedagogy to have a long-term impact upon them. At the beginning of the project we did not know what was involved in developing and sustaining such an environment; and this project was set up to explore this issue. This project seeks to explore and understand the processes involved as:

1. Teachers are helped to shape and evaluate their classroom practice in accordance with their growing understanding of how they can strengthen and transform children's learning capacity

2. The school is managed, within the framework of current government requirements, so as to foster pupils' learning capacities in sustained ways

3. Pupils themselves are helped on a whole-school basis to become active agents in the development of their own and each others' learning capacities

4. Parents and the wider community (e.g. governors, local politicians, LEA, other LEA schools) are involved in and commited to the process of fostering the learning capacity of all young people.

Research Team Title and Location
Alison Peacock (PI) Headteacher, The Wroxham School, Hertfordshire
Mandy Swann (PI) Lecturer in Education, Faculty of Education University of Cambridge
Mary Jane Drummond Early Years, CPD, formerly Faculty of Education University of Cambridge
Susan Hart Special and inclusive education, formerly Faculty of Education University of Cambridge
Non Worrall Researcher (2005-2007)

Steering Group:

Included Professor Donald McIntyre, Faculty of Education University of Cambridge

Research Approach

We used an action research approach to explore the work of the Headteacher as she supports the work of colleagues, pupils and parents in her school. This enabled us to investigate and document in depth the issues, dilemmas, possibilities and constraints that surround decision-making in the head-teacher's day-to-day work and that of the teachers. Teachers undertook collaborative action research with university researchers to elicit teachers' own accounts of what they are trying to do and to achieve. This provided the frameworks for the study of what happens in their classrooms.


1. The power of collective action

What possibilities for transforming learning capacity come within teachers' remit when a group of staff work together to identify and lift limits on learning, in the interests of the whole student community?

2. Individual teacher development

What is involved in teaching without ability labelling?

3. School leadership

What issues face school leaders who want to develop schools committed to 'learning without limits'?

4. Role of parents/communities

What part do parents play, positively or negatively, in supporting or limiting the influence that teachers and schools can have in transforming learning capacity?

The research questions link provides more detail about the questions in each area.

Key Findings

We are currently finalising the data analysis.