School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Staff Profiles

Professor David Leat

Prof of Curriculum Innovation



David Leat was appointed in 1989 as Geography PGCE tutor and continued in this role until 1999. Between 2001 and 2004 he was on leave of absense, working for the DfES in the KS3 Strategy as a Regional Director, putting research into practice. Since his return to the university he has been the Director for the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching CfLaT.

My original research interest in thinking skills has developed over the last 20 years, through projects on metacognition, Learning2Learn and innovative assessment to focus on Enquiry Based Learning/Curriculum (EBL/EBC), which is the curriculum format which best embodies innovative pedagogies.  EBC encourages students to ask and pursue questions which are meaningful to them and arise through experience, thinking, talk and study.  This a divergent approach to curriculum which stands in contrast to the dominant convergent model of pre-specified learning outcomes.  EBC holds much promise for a transformative approach to education, which is more democratic, draws upon community resources and ignites intrinsic motivation.

However research does show that there is a dominant curriculum discourse, epitomised by targets, objectives and teaching to the test, which is so powerful because of Oftsed inspections and the threats they carry.  Therefore it is very hard for schools to make radical changes to teaching and curriculum because of the risk implied.  Furthermore it is notoriously difficult to change teachers' practice, so even where committed pioneers make some progress, it is altogether more challenging to sustain whole school curriculum change.  We have learned these lessons over time and as a consequence CfLaT gives equal attention to professional learning and organisational/cultural change.  Therefore working with school leaders, developing professional learning communities and 'working space', and setting up peer coaching or lesson study are important processes in curriculum reform.

CfLaT is now co-ordinating a local network of schools and teachers who want to make EBC a mainstay of their curriculum and we are developing a number of funded and unfunded projects which will support this ambition.  This network is increasingly connected to national networks and organisations. 


Research Interests

The impact of thinking skills interventions on teaching and learning

The use of teaching thinking strategies or 'powerful pedagogical strategies' is an important approach to school improvement. It allows teachers to take ownership of the nature, pace and direction of their efforts to develop their teaching. Their power comes from allowing teachers to make manageable but significant changes to their teaching, which usually brings an immediate response from students. This 'visible' response from pupils invites and encourages teachers to sustain and development changes in their teaching. However we need to know more about the factors which accelerate and support this process, such as the teacher's ability to plan well, the students' response and the school's ability to support risk and learning.

David Leat wrote the materials, based on research, which are now in every secondary school in England to train teacher coaches. There is very little research on coaching in the British context. Although the great majority of teachers are very positive about their coaching experiences, we know very little about the impact that coaching is having on professional learning, relationships, management systems and school improvement processes. The research is exploring these issues.

Learning To Learn

Learning2Learn is a popular phrase. It covers a multitude of teaching innovations designed to make students more motivated, independent, flexible, knowledgeable learners who will be able to learn and work well (and have fun) throughout their lives. It is important to understnad the ways in which teacher learning and student learning are related within this context, so that guidance to schools and other institutions can be offered.

Other Expertise

Having worked in applied research in universities and then in applying research while working for DfES, I have considerable insights into the how research can make an impact on teachers, practice and schools. This is reflected in the forthcoming publication 'Thinking Through School'.

Current Work

Research and development projects include:
1. Formative evaluation of Open Future, a primary curriculum innovation with 4 strands 'Grow It', 'Cook It', 'Film It' and 'Ask It' (Philosophy for Children) for the Helen Hamlyn Trust. Part of the formative work is in developing a progression framework for a skills based curriculum.
2. Evaluation of the ACTS Project (Activating Children's Thinking Skills) in East Ayrshire, funded by the Scottish Executive.
3. A research project on coaching for CfBT and the National College of School Leadership, investigating what happens in coaching sessions and testing whether an intervention makes an impact on both coaching practice and classroom practice.
4. Working as part of the CfLaT team on the Campaign for Learning Learning To Learn project involving some 25 schools in 3 Local Education Authorities.
5. A number of small funded projects supporting schools undertaking action research as part of school improvement.

Research Roles

Director of the Research Centre for Learning and Teaching

Postgraduate Supervision

Currently supervise 4 doctoral students.

Esteem Indicators

Top Four Esteem Indicators:

(1) Editor of the 'Thinking Through' book series. The series started in 1999 with 'Thinking Through Geography' by David Leat, which won the Geographical Association's Gold Award; the series now has 7 further titles.

(2) Author of Thinking Through School - winner of the Education Resources Books Award for 2007.

(3) Member of the National Advisory Group on Coaching and Mentoring.

(4) Member of the Primary and Secondary Advisory Groups for the BBC Digital Curriculum for Thinking Skills.


Editor for the 'Thinking Through ...' series;
Member of the Primary and Secondary Advisory Groups for the BBC Digital Curriculum for Thinking Skills;
Member of the National Advisory Group on Coaching and Mentoring
Member of the Geographical Association Teacher Education Working Group
Member of the Science City Education Workstream Advisory Group
3 years on Leave of Absence working for the DfES Key Stage 3 Strategy (key role in developing training materials and designing a national whole school initiative - Leading in Learning).
Member of the Partners Group (academic reviewers) for the National Strategies initiative 'The Learning Conversation'.
Keynote speech at CLIL National Conference (Dutch Bi-lingual schools) at Ede, Holland, February 2007: 'The impact of thinking skills on learning'.