Executive Function – Cognitive Science Research and Innovation Work Group

Some people describe executive function (EF) as “the management system of the brain.” That’s because the skills involved let us set goals, plan, and get things done. EF includes three categories: inhibitory control, working memory and attention shifting/cognitive flexibility.


EF predicts maths achievement as well as success in school broadly (Clements, Sarama, and Germeroth 2016). Most teachers rate EF components as important for maths thinking and learning, and these ratings increase with teaching experience (Gilmore 2014).

Camilla Gilmore and Ruth Trundley introduce Executive Function and Mathematics

In this half-hour recorded webinar Professor Camilla Gilmore, and Dr Ruth Trundley discuss executive function and mathematics, using observations of a child working on a maths problem to illustrate inhibitory control, working memory and attention shifting/cognitive flexibility.

  • Professor Camilla Gilmore –  Professor of Mathematical Cognition at Loughborough University.
  • Dr Ruth Trundley Jurassic Maths Maths Hub Primary Lead and Primary Maths Adviser, Devon Education Services. 
                        Once you have selected the video below please click on the black screen to start.


Work Group Outline

There is extensive evidence of a relationship between children’s executive function skills (working memory, inhibition, and cognitive flexibility) and mathematics outcomes. However, the precise mechanisms underlying this and how to capitalise on this in the classroom is unclear. This group will participate in a study co-designed with researchers from Loughborough University, which builds on observations emerging from a previous collaboration. The study will focus on inhibition in maths and how we can support children to stop children from automatically using one strategy without considering alternatives.

What is involved?

The study will be shaped by the participants and adjusted in line with observations and findings.

The study will include:
• Identifying focus learners, observing the learners work on some questions that have a range of possible strategies and recording the strategies they use.
• Collaboratively identifying ways to support children to stop, generate some alternative strategies, and select the most appropriate.
• Choosing teaching strategies to try in class; observe and record what happens.
• Sharing of observations, identifying themes emerging and repeating the action research cycle.
• Withdrawing of support to see if children can continue the process of stopping and thinking with less direction.


Aimed at Primary and Secondary teachers, this is an action-research Work Group.  Schools/colleges must support participants to commit to the full programme. Full details can be found by clicking on ‘more information’. Please read this two page document before applying.

Participation is free for teachers from state-funded schools. Cover expenses will need to be funded by each school, as necessary.

We are no longer taking applications for this Research Group.  This is for information only.