Reviewed  Video - Sue Garthercole -

Sue Garthacole Cambridge University: Learnus Lecture (Click)

     Sue Gathercole works in Cambridge University of the Brain Institute that hold is clinics for children with learning difficulties. This video provides a fascinating insight into the lastest developments and findings of the Institute. 

     It provides a profile of children learning difficulties. It explains that working memory cannot be trained. It explains the role of the efficient brain, the significance of white matter that connects the brain hubs.

This Learnus Lecture 

Cambridge University Institute of the brain cannot solve all learners difficulties.

There is no 'magic pill' according to Sue Garthercole.

She argues that there is a need to help children to develop compensationary  strategies, especially for secondary children, to enable them to address their difficulties.

A 2010 Government Report on literacy and numeracy of children from 13 to 19 years of age between 1948 to 2009 she argued did not indicate a significant change at least in the last 30 years.

18% of all children will need special support in their schooling.

There are a large number of children struggling to learn.

Pisa International ranking illustrates the spread between the highest and lowest attainers in the United Kingdom is wide.

There should be a 7-year gap in  children's attainment by 18 years of age. The widest Pisa gap is 9 years.

Maths and science children are doing very poorly in England compared with other countries.

Are we doing the right thing for children?

Around 10:10

The environment of socially disadvantaged children.

Multiple research suggests thefe are problems with their cognitive development – language vocabulary and comprehension

There is a problem with fluid intelligence which is not influenced by how learners are taught

There are also problems with children''s central executive, emotional regulation, long-term memory and their I.Q.


Gathercole shows a graph illustrating the spread of children high and low cognitive development. It is divided into two pairs of lines for socially advantaged and disadvantaged children.
The graph shoe the development from 40 months to 10 of age.

At 40 months of age the two sets are separate but by 4 to 5 years the high social status with children with lowest potential cross the children with low social status but high learning potential. By 10 years of age those with higher learning potential for both is above those with lower learning potential, but it is still not a high as those in high socio-status.

Getting reading started – oral language important

May be too late five years later

Intervention -America and Australia – they offer best Instruction with parental liaison

Progress is monitored

There is a third tier of Intensive support is only adopted if all other things fails


Learning Difficulties – Cognitive diagnoses

There is nothing special about children with diagnosed problems like dyslexia.

The list includes:-

A.D.H.D. Attentional Control
Language Impairment

If there are enough symptoms diagnosis is given, but it is the weakness that is important not the diagnosis.

Diagnosis is unreliable – each child problems are different, individual.

Those with A.D.H.D. are inattentive and hyperactive

The common factors in all these conditions are low working memory


CALM are clinics that was created for children in 2014 for children with learning difficulties.

They are aged 7 years to 14 yea

CALM has found that children with low combined scores have very different cognitive profiles


CALM cannot find anything wrong with 30% of them, but this does not mean they have no problems. There is no evidence it arises because of behaviour.

Children learning problems are bigger than their cognitive problems. Difficult levels of performance. 

Children do experience with vocabulary were CALM's measure.  

Yellow – Language reading, language and maths
Red – Language and Maths, but not reading.problems.

The additional reading problem has rapid naming, phonological fluency  and speed of retrieval to access phonological representations and produce them. 

Associated with working memory and language is verbal ability, it not that special, it’s just part of a general verbal ability, a phonological construct that influences shorter term memory.
Another dimension is executive visual-spatial type of skills, such as problem-solving such as looking for patterns.

Visual Spatial is strongly related to maths  capability.

Although the executive functions and phonological are heavily correlated, they are not the same of each other.

The pathways to these are quite seperate despite the fact the executive and phonological are highly correlated they are not the same as each other.

There is evidence that maths ability is related to problem executive behaviours, especially as they have to hold so much information for computations etc. including processing visu-spatial information. 

There may be a link with in-attentiveness is strongly correlates with visu-spatial ability that may cause children problems in maths, but this is speculative.

Three dimensions – phonological skills through reading and language; executive spatial skills associated with inattention and maths problems: and hyperactivity.


Brain network connections are called connectomes.

The strength between hubs and efficiency of white matter that is important

It is like flight pattern, short and long term distance flights.

Highly level of connections in local areas is referred to as a small-world organisation

There are occasional long-distance connections.

Minimal distances is the ideal.

Brian regions are nodes.

Edges are the links.

Blue areas are rich code nodes have levels of connectivity. It resembles an airport. i.e. Heathrow airport it is connected to everything.

It is possible to work out maths and language capabilities.


Those who have more efficient networks and rich club nodes, short longer connections and more short term connections will have higher capabilities, but it not necessary more connection, but rather optimal organisation that is important.

Lots of cognitive processes when children apply tasks.

Working memory is the best predictor of academic learning success.

Can it be trained. Submitting a paper that took for ever my thinking. Certain working memory training in activities that are unfamiliar, such backward digit span, improve performance. Novel cognitive routine is fuelled by the child’s fluent intelligence and I.Q. This type of learning will not resolve cognitive diagnosis.

There is no evidence that working memory can be improved.

>>>Watch  and Read Plomin's research on Genetics (Click)


       Sue Gathercole clearly states that working memory is the biggest predictor of educational achievement and it cannot be changed. Working memory is not an organ on the brain, it is outcome from a range of cognitive processes and it is closely related the brains white matter and cognitive efficiency. She claims there is no 'magic bullet' to resolve learners learning difficulties.

       The findings she outlines that reflects the research of Cambridge Institute of the Brain. These must be accepted. The most important that Sue Garthercole states is the spread of children performance in the U.K. is not acceptable, but this attributable to variance of Pisa. The other is that older children with with working should receive support to lower the effect of it on their schooling.