Excellence in Schools

4 - 18 year olds

Supporting Schools

James Nottingham has been a teaching assistant, teacher and leader in schools in the UK, and is now one of the most sought-after speakers in the world of education. He has an outstanding reputation for translating up-to-date research into practical strategies that are proven to work with students between the aged of 5-18.

James offers many types of professional development ranging from keynote speeches to half-day and full-day workshops; demonstration lessons to team-teaching and coaching; and from study tours to in-school consultancy.

His company’s most effective support is the Challenging Learning Process. This brings together the best resources, research and practice to help all staff and students make outstanding progress in learning. You can find out more about the process they use at ChallengingLearning.com

  • “Challenging Learning’s work at our school is leading to the most significant and ongoing positive change that I have witnessed in my 30 years in education. As part of this on-going development, we held a parent information night that is still talked about two years later. We all now have a different perspective on learning and the vital role we can play in developing successful learners.”

    George Telford, Principal

  • James Nottingham is one of the most talked about names in school development in the world today. His main message is focused on the development of pupils, not their achievement.

    Education World

  • If you want an inquisitive and enthusiastic learning environment in the classroom and if you want to enhance your students' self-esteem, then you should read Encouraging Learning. It gives you practical tips on how you can get just that by focusing on concepts such as self-esteem, feedback and  reflection.

    All Skolvärden (Teacher Magazine)

  • I want to go and put all my new skills into practice. This has been extremely helpful and useful in my role and I have learnt so much.


  • An inspirational guide to creating lessons that are thought-provoking, meaningful and at the same time theoretically sound.

    Professor Carol Dweck

    Stanford University
  • Challenging Learning is the best company in Scandinavia to work with if you really want to understand how to make the most of my Visible Learning research.

    Prof John Hattie

    University of Melbourne
  • The most effective professional development is led by internal coaches and supported by external experts.

    John Hattie

  • “Thank you so much for such an inspirational and thought provoking training day on Monday. I haven't received such a positive response from the staff following any other training event. The staffroom is still buzzing! You pitched it perfectly for our school and have given us plenty to think about.”

    Kylie Spark

    Sale, UK
  • “Thanks again for a truly inspirational day. For a school in special measures such as ours it has given the staff a positive direction in which to work together and the staffroom has a buzz about it.”

    Cathy Longhurst

    Herts, UK
  • “We had a Headteacher's meeting yesterday and were overwhelmed by the positive response.  They have used the strategies you shared with us in every staff meeting to pose strategic questions to staff.  We used them to set our strategic vision for the group…. Very encouraging!!”

    Nicky Everett

    Essex, UK

    Areas of Expertise

    Here are the topics offered by James and his team at Challenging Learning. A keynote can cover highlights of 1-2 themes; a day’s presentation can cover 1-2 in depth or highlights of 3-4; and the many long-term projects James runs tend to cover them all!

    Assessment Capable Learners

    Teaching your students how to give themselves accurate feedback

    Research from Hattie, Black & Wiliam, Lysakowski & Walberg, and others has shown that one of the best ways to help students make progress is to teach them how to be assessment capable. This improves understanding and engagement, increases the quality of independent thought, and enhances learning environments. We can show you how to create these positive outcomes so that all your students are able to accurately identify for themselves what they are trying to achieve, how much progress they have made so far, and what learning steps they could take next. 

    Connected topics: Challenge; Dweck Mindsets; Feedback; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning


    Ensuring all students are challenged and stretched appropriately

    A common worry amongst educators is that we find it difficult to challenge our more able students. This has been one of the motivating factors in our work at Challenging Learning (there’s a bit of a clue in our name!) We have developed models and strategies that will help you to ensure that ALL of your students are challenged appropriately, leading to higher levels of engagement and progress.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Dweck Mindsets; Feedback; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Self Efficacy & Student Teaching; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning.

    Creative Approaches to Learning

    Developing creative and entrepreneurial thinking

    The world does not exist in subject compartments; life is made up of complex challenges. Creative approaches to learning aims to generate a rich and varied learning environment in which students develop a range of skills from problem-solving to reasoning, literacy and numeracy in a setting that mirrors the real world. Based on the theory and practice of dramatic enquiry, mantle of the expert, role-play and simulation, we can show you how to help your students make decisions, manage themselves and develop the attitudes, skills and knowledge they need for life beyond the classroom.

    Connected topics: Effective Questioning; Learning Pit; P4C; Teaching Thinking

    Creating Growth Mindsets

    Putting Carol Dweck’s mindset theory into practice

    Carol Dweck is the world’s leading researcher on motivation and engagement. Every 2-3 years, we host and co-present conferences in Europe alongside Professor Dweck. This puts us in a perfect position to help you understand Dweck’s Mindset research so that you can develop your students’ resilience, independence, persistence and intellectual risk-taking.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Challenge; Feedback; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Self Efficacy & Student Motivation; P4C; Visible Learning; Vision & Strategy

    Effective Questioning

    Increasing challenge and deepening learning through effective questioning

    Increase challenge and deepen learning through the outstanding use of questions. Discover the six most effective questioning techniques, including diagnostic questioning; deep thinking questions; and challenging, facilitating, and responding questions. Also understand how questioning lies at the heart of Assessment for Learning (AfL) techniques, and leads to improved student achievement and progress.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Challenge; Feedback; Learning Pit; P4C; Progress for All; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning

    Feedback & Assessment

    Increasing the quality and impact of the feedback you give your students

    According to researchers such as Dylan Wiliam and John Hattie, feedback can double the rate of progress students make. Yet how many schools are actually achieving these gains? In fact, some feedback can actually have negative effects on student learning! In response to this, we have developed a range of strategies to share with you that will ensure your feedback is effective, personalized, credible, timely, and well used.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Challenge; Dweck Mindsets; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning

    Learning Pit

    A popular & effective model for enhancing dialogue, questioning, and student motivation

    The Learning Pit is one way to explain why more challenge leads to enhanced learning. It helps teachers structure lessons, and students challenge themselves. Created by our founding Director, James Nottingham, the Learning Challenge uses the analogy of a "pit," first used by Butler & Edwards. More background information, a full description, & lesson resources can be found here (www.jamesnottingham.co.uk/about/learning-pit). By choosing this topic, we can show you how to develop questioning and facilitation techniques; ways in which the pit enhances resilience, decision-making and higher order thinking skills; strategies for coming out of the pit; and why eureka moments are crucial for meaningful learning.

    Connected topics: All topics shown on this page

    Philosophy for Children (P4C)

    Engaging and practical ways to use P4C with all students

    Philosophy for Children is why Challenging Learning is one of the leading innovators it is today. We have been using the approach with 3-19 year olds since the early 90s, and members of our team can be seen on various TV documentaries using the approach. We offer accredited training, support, online materials (www.p4c.com) and keynote speeches about P4C. As Robert Sternberg, former president of the American Psychological Society, once said: “No programme I am aware of is more likely to teach durable and transferable thinking skills than Philosophy for Children.”

    Connected topics: Challenge; Creative Approaches to Learning; Effective Questioning; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Surface to Deep: Developing Dialogue; Teaching Thinking

    Progress for All

    Building an emphasis on progress so that all students succeed

    How much progress are your students making, and how do you know? These are two of the questions that ought to drive education and yet, they often go unanswered. It seems we have many ways to report on student achievement (national exams and teacher tests) whereas progress, more often than not, is talked about purely in anecdotal terms.  We can show you how to change all this by adapting the emphasis of learning, feedback, and testing in your school.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Dweck Mindsets; Effective Questioning; Feedback & Assessment; Learning Pit; Self Efficacy & Student Motivation; Teaching Thinking; Visible Learning; Vision & Strategy

    Self Efficacy & Student Motivation

    Inspiring and motivating all students 

    We all try to motivate and inspire our students. Yet sometimes our strategies backfire. Popular methods of feedback, prize-giving, motivational stickers, praise, and groupings actually have the opposite effect and turn students off learning! Building on the most credible and up-to-date research, we can show you ways to identify what really works and what doesn’t; and how to design learning environments that really do enhance intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy in all students.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Challenge; Dweck Mindsets; Learning Pit; Visible Learning

    Surface to Deep: Developing Dialogue

    Improving the quality of dialogue with and between your students

    Dialogue is the foundation of learning because it allows interaction and engagement with the ideas of others. It also provides the opportunity for students to move from surface-level knowledge to deeper understanding of concepts. As a pedagogical tool, it is amongst the most effective ways to give feedback, guidance and challenge. At Challenging Learning, we have developed some superb strategies and approaches to dialogue that will help all staff in schools to make the most of the possibilities.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Challenge; Effective Questioning; Feedback; Learning Pit; P4C; Progress for All; Teaching Thinking

    Teaching Thinking

    Teaching students how to think so that they are more reasoning and reasonable people

    Everyone can be taught to be a better thinker. ‘Better’ in terms of being more effective, ethical, social, creative and judicious. With improved thinking, we may become more successful learners, more thoughtful citizens and more confident, independent people. We have a highly experienced team who have trained in, and can share with you, the following approaches: Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS); de Bono's Lateral Thinking techniques; Habits of Mind; the Thinking Through series from Newcastle University; Thinking Maps; and Philosophy for Children.

    Connected topics: Challenge; Creative Approaches to Learning; Effective Questioning; Learning Pit; P4C; Progress for All; Surface to Deep: Developing Dialogue; Visible Learning


    Visible Learning

    We are the only company in Scandinavia working directly with John Hattie. As such, we are uniquely positioned to help you understand the truths (and myths) about his research

    Visible Learning plus is an in-depth school change model of professional learning and development. It is based on the principles of Visible Learning that have developed from John Hattie’s research. Together with Professor Hattie, we manage long-term development processes that are currently being used by more than 100 schools in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. We also offer shorter courses in Visible Learning, all accredited and signed by John Hattie.

    Connected topics: Assessment Capable Learners; Challenge; Creating Growth Mindsets; Effective Questioning; Feedback; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Self Efficacy & Student Motivation; Teaching Thinking; Vision & Strategy

    Vision and Strategy

    Developing leadership to generate focus, energy and commitment from everyone in your school community

    Choosing to lead rather than simply manage has dramatic implications for the success of your school. We can show you how to balance your leadership-management seesaw; where to place your energy to sustain growth and learning; and how to align everyone behind a common vision/goal. We will also show you how to deal with resistance, speak with one mind and one voice, plan powerfully and grow leadership capacity. You will take away a leadership toolkit to put into practice immediately.

    Connected topics: Creating Growth Mindsets; Learning Pit; Progress for All; Visible Learning

    Recommended Reading

    The Learning Challenge

    By James Nottingham (2017)

    The Learning Challenge describes the theory and practice of guiding students through the ‘Learning Pit’. It is a practical book filled with ideas for making lessons engaging, thought provoking and collaborative.


    This book includes so many worthwhile processes to invoke the various stages of learning, to show the connections between these stages, and to identify evidence of impact from techniques that have been tried and tested in many contexts around the world by James Nottingham and his team. It is a pleasure reading a book that puts the challenge back into learning.

    John Hattie, 2017

    Challenging Learning Through Feedback

    By James Nottingham and Jill Nottingham (2017)

    It is well known that feedback is one of the most powerful influences on student achievement. And yet 32% of the studies examined by Kluger and DeNisi (1996) show a negative effect on learning! This book shows you how to avoid all those negative factors so that the type, tone and quality of feedback are fruitful every time.


    This was a thought provoking read and one I will reference over and over again. The authors have created a thorough reference for all teachers working to make their feedback impact learning, not only student learning, but their own. This will be a valuable reference for educators for years to come. I think that this reaches beyond classroom walls and will also help administrators model feedback for teachers and make an impact on the growth of student achievement.

    Katina Keener, Elementary Principal Hayes, VA

    Challenging Learning Through Dialogue

    By James Nottingham, Jill Nottingham and Martin Renton (2017)

    This book shares some of the best ways to make lessons more interactive, thought-provoking and engaging. It explains the most successful strategies for using dialogue to move students from surface learning to deep learning, and for teachers to support the learning process through instant feedback, guidance and stimulation for learners.



    I might sound a bit too excited, but that is because the book manages to point out problematic issues in teaching and to give solutions and strategies to act on them. I give my warmest recommendation to teachers that want to focus more on good dialogues in the classroom.

    Kristian Nøhr Jensen, quoted in Folkeskolen.dk

    Encouraging Learning

    By James Nottingham (2012)

    This inspiring, humorous and practical book shows what you can do to help children of all ages develop into confident, thoughtful and independent learners. For everyone living and working with children – particularly teachers, parents, carers and youth workers.


    I recommend this book to anyone wishing to help children learn. In it you will find some lovely ideas for improving the way we encourage, support and praise all young people.

    Professor Carol Dweck, Author of Mindset, Stanford University, USA

    James has developed a rare skill for blending arresting anecdotes, hard-edged research and practical advice into a truly compelling narrative.

    Professor Barry Hymer, Author of the Gifted and Talented Pocket Book, Cumbria University, UK

    Challenging Learning

    By James Nottingham (2010) and (2nd Ed., 2016)

    The original book by James Nottingham is now widely regarded as a seminal text for all educators wanting to engage, challenge and inspire all students. Praise for the book includes: “An inspirational guide to creating lessons that are thought-provoking and meaningful, and at the same time theoretically sound” (Carol Dweck, 2010) and “James Nottingham has the skills of explaining the complex in a way which is accessible and inviting. He is challenging yet encouraging. The examples of how it could be and the insights into what success looks like will leave the reader wanting to do things differently without a bag of guilt to weigh them down. ‘Challenging Learning’ works at every level.” (Mick Waters, President of the Curriculum Foundation)



    Through the use of rich examples of classroom interactions, this book offers strategies that will help pupils to produce their own thoughtful conclusions, develop their own concepts, examine logic and remain open to alternatives. Highlights include: effective teaching strategies including FACTS, the Teaching Target Model and the Learning Pit Models; up-to-date research and theory from leading experts; practical suggestions and principles to help you design and develop your own lessons. Not simply for teachers, this book has relevance for all those who work with children. Jargon-free and accessible, it will be relevant and valuable for all.

    Sarah Brew, Parents in Touch

    Challenging Mindset

    By James Nottingham and Bosse Larsson

    This book answers key questions about Carol Dweck’s theory of Mindset – what is a ‘growth mindset’ and what difference can it make? Why are growth mindset interventions not working in schools (yet) and what can be done to change this? What is a ‘failure mindset’ and why is it more influential than an adult’s fixed or growth mindset?


    “I consider the book to be compulsory reading in all teacher education. It should be in every workplace where teaching occurs.” (Originally in Swedish, quoted online at Pedagog Mölndal

    Annette Olsson, Pedagog Mölndal