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Durham University

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Mind the Gap: Research and Development

A research project of the School of Education.


Mind the Gap is a family learning project aiming to facilitate intergenerational engagement with metacognition through the vehicle of a stop-motion animation project. The animation project takes place in school and targets children and their dads/ male carers. It is accompanied by staff development to promote a learning to learn (L2L) approach across curriculum and home/school boundaries. Our team of researchers is engaged in two related projects. This webpage is dedicated to the first, sponsored by Esmee Fairbairn, which aimed to research and develop better understanding of the intervention elements, the learning environment created and the impacting factors that lead to effective family learning. The second, funded by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), is a systematic evaluation of the impact of a standardised version of the project on participant children, teachers and schools. Further details of this project can be found here.

The Mind the Gap intervention sought to create better learners, by harnessing the power of effective ‘learning to learn’ thinking strategies through both parental engagement and classroom teaching. It did this through 5 sessions (10 hours total) where children and their parents worked together to create an animation film. These sessions were coordinated by a practitioner who helped participants to think about how they were learning, creating learning goals and reflecting on their progress. The practitioner also trained the school staff in how to embed learning to learn approaches in their work, and how to develop a strategic approach to effective parental engagement.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Mind The Gap: Evaluation (£91012.89 from Campaign for Learning)


The 5 sessions were carefully developed to encompass elements such as story planning, modelling, trialling the equipment, exploring different animation techniques, filming, and editing including adding credits and sound effects. Around each element was a learning to learn theme based on one of the 5Rs developed by the Campaign for Learning in the Learning to Learn in Schools project: Readiness, Resourcefulness, Resilience, Responsibility and Reflectiveness (Wall et al. 2010). The progression through the programme has been carefully mapped to ensure the L2L elements and the animation process are closely associated and therefore maximise opportunities for transfer.


This project undertook a formative process in partnership with primary and secondary schools to develop knowledge of what worked in the Mind the Gap process (across both learning to learn and parental engagement activities) and to standardise the intervention, using a number of resources centred on a family learning book that allowed the families to record their learning experiences.

The research took the form of a multiple case study comprised of school level cases. Participating groups of children, adults and teaching staff from individual schools were treat as individual case studies, constituting the larger case in which emerging findings would be brought together thematically. We took a largely exploratory approach, with some explanatory observation and analysis, since researchers had begun to theorise and speculate on likely outcomes, based on previous work in similar contexts. Through prior observation in schools undertaking the animation project outside of the Mind the Gap programme, we formulated an open ended, initial observational framework which would permit axial coding while leaving space to identify and add new codes as new observations were made. The Mind the Gap case studies allowed exploration for additional emerging themes as well as for the development of those at the speculative stage. 

Individual cases were self-selected on the basis that they were schools which had been recruited to the project by the CFL. The research was presented as part of the Mind the Gap project and in opting into the project, schools were consenting to take part in the research. Every school involved in the project and each instance of the intervention was included in the observations, allowing us to consider the individuality of each setting and infer transferable findings for different contexts beyond the project. We were able to consider factors likely to impact on the project in different kinds of setting, for example, primary and secondary schools, high proportion of EAL, high level of social and economic deprivation, urban settings.

Observations took place in schools in Tyneside and Sheffield, from May to July 2012. In primary schools, the aim was to focus on Year 5 children and their accompanying parents or carers but a pragmatic approach was necessary where recruitment of participants was frequently challenging for the project facilitators, so that children taking part were often of mixed ages, as were the siblings who many of them were accompanied by. In secondary schools, recruitment was challenging. Observation became focused on these challenges as opposed to the project process, since it was not possible to recruit a large enough cohort to carry out the animation project. Nevertheless, this was a useful opportunity in allowing us to identify obstacles for the project in secondary schools.


This project was a research and development project feeding into the Education Endowment Fund project that tests the impact of the intervention. Examples of the animations completed by participant families can be found at:

Importantly this project worked with partnership schools to standardise the Mind the Gap process, therefore outcomes included the presentation and resources to be used across schools taking part in the project, this included a handbook for families, ‘Animate Learning’, and a handbook for practitioners (schools) outlining the project and research. Guidelines were also produced to support the training of facilitators and for schools thinking of taking part.


Case studies on each of the participant schools are providing the basis for a number of publications (in process).


Wall, K., Burns, H. and Llewellyn, A. (2013) Mind the Gap: Creating a Family Learning Environment that Facilitates Learner Voice. Paper presented at: Student Voice Conference, Cambridge University, July 2013.


From the School of Education

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