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Social Sciences

Raising Levels of Achievement through lesson development for pupils with Moderate Learning Difficulties (MLD) in Secondary School (KS3)

1 September 2010 - 31 July 2013

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Brahm Norwich

Funding awarded: £ 424,320

Sponsor(s): Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

About the research



A team from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter are embarking on exciting and innovative development and research in ways of raising the levels of achievement of pupils with moderate learning difficulties (MLD).
While pupils with moderate learning difficulties (MLD) represent the largest proportion of those identified as having special educational needs, they have been neglected as a focus for educational initiatives. This project aims to improve the learning experiences and opportunities of pupils with MLD to enhance their educational achievements. This will be done through a programme of professional development using Lesson Study methodology (see reverse side for more details), a high profile international method of in-school professional development. The project will have two wings: a Development and an Evaluation wing

Development wing

Phase 1: Innovation

A core team of teachers from 20 secondary and special schools serving pupils with MLD in key stage 3 classes will work with school leaders, teaching assistants, pupils and parents to develop high quality lessons in literacy, the arts and humanities. Literacy is arguably the most important outcome for schooling. Linking literacy and the arts and humanities curricula will also create rich possibilities to promote learning in a meaningful and enjoyable way in a context beyond school.

Participating teachers will be trained in high quality lesson design and will continually review their own classroom practice in order to help them develop high quality learning experiences.

Phase 2: Trial of phase 1 outputs

The materials, lessons and teaching approaches generated during the innovation phase will be trialled with an outer group of 20 schools. This second group (outer core) will test the lesson ideas and teaching approaches. Their experiences in the classroom will be used to refine the teaching materials before they are disseminated in phase 3.

Phase 3: Materials design and national dissemination

Materials (workbook /DVD) will be designed in the last phase based on the outputs of phases 1 and 2 and informed by the outcomes of the Evaluation wing. They will be disseminated nationally through forming dissemination partnerships and networks.

Evaluation wing

Alongside and interacting with the development wing of the project will be an independent evaluation of the development process and outcomes in the project classrooms. This will also focus on specific pupils with MLD, their learning characteristics, the school and class settings, and their teaching and learning experiences and learning outcomes. 

The project, which is funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation (from September 2010 to August 2012), is based in the Graduate School of Education, University of Exeter. The project schools will be secondary and special schools in the south-west covering urban and county areas.

Project Team:

Project Development Leader: Dr Jeff Jones; Project Coordinator Professor Brahm Norwich;
Project Adviser: Professor Charles Desforges.

Evaluation Officer: Dr Annamari Ylonen; Tel: 01392 724942; Email

Development Officer: Abigail Paterson; Tel: 01392 724969; Email


Lesson Study: process and support systems involved 

Lesson Study methodology is a collaborative professional development approach which aims to develop and refine teaching (NCSL, 2005, National Strategies, 2008).

Participating teachers will be trained in high quality Lesson Study approaches in which they will continually review their own classroom practice in order to help them develop high quality learning experiences.

It has been presented as involving these elements:

  1. developing ground rules for working in joint research mode,
  2. using case pupils (small number of pupils around whom the development is focussed),
  3. identifying what to learn and why; the research focus,
  4. drawing on what has been learned already about this focus,
  5. joint planning,
  6. joint observation (data capture)
  7. analysing and recording of what has been learned from case pupils and by researchers,
  8. capturing and distilling practice / data (through using videos, stills and audios)
  9. finding ways of helping others to learn from what has been learned (innovated, refined, modified),
  10. creating an artefact to communicate this (e.g. PowerPoint, video, coaching guide, etc.) and using it.

The findings of the NCSL-CfBT Research Lesson Study project illustrated its relevance in a UK context drawing on ideas from networked learning (NCSL, 2005). Getting started with Lesson Study involves identifying a group of confident teachers who will start off the process. Pilot research lessons are recommended for participants to become familiar with the core components of the methodology. Experience indicates the importance of:

  1. having a Lesson Study facilitator and core of dedicated staff committed to improving practice and not afraid to take risks
  2. whole school process and support
  3. distinguishing it from performance management or coaching/mentoring,
  4. having enough time for the process and having clarity about the focus of the work.
  5. update and review sessions need to be planned and progress shared with local advisers and specialist,
  6. communicating to others about the Lesson Study process is important to create interest across the school and beyond. 

The principles of Lesson Study and the specific practical implications from the NCSL-CfBT project have informed the design of this MLD project. The key team involved in that project will also be involved in this project.


National Strategies (2008) Improving practice and progression through lesson Study; handbook for leading teachers and subject leaders. Nottingham DCSF

NCSL (2005) Getting started with networked research lesson study. NCSL/CfBT.


October 2010