the practice of assigning a grade or descriptor to a learner based on perceived characteristics of that learner. It is now recognised as being both highly unreliable and also counterproductive as labels may induce self-fulfilling prophecies or, if communicated, have negative effects on learners' attitudes and motivation.

lad o' pairts

a term from Scottish educational history, referring to the young boy from humble origins who demonstrates academic talent and is able to achieve success owing to an (allegedly) open educational system.


A term from French politics referring to the separation of church and state. In educational terms, it means the attempt to keep religion, or religious practice, out of the school system. In recent times it has provoked controversy as it has been invoked in attempts to prevent the wearing of religious symbols in schools. This commitment to a secular education system is also found in Turkey and some other countries.


originally, this referred to the policy or doctrine of political non-interference in economic affairs, allowing unregulated 'free enterprise'. It is now more generally used for any approach marked by non-interference, minimal restriction, or reluctance to exert control.

latch-key child

a term, dating from the 1960s, for a school pupil unsupervised after school, usually because parents or caregivers are working, but who is given a house-key so access to the home is possible. The phenomenon was viewed by some as indicative of lack of parental supervision and care.

lateral thinking

creative thinking; producing ideas which are not obvious or plainly derivative.

lay inspector

an individual, not from a background within the educational system or establishment, who takes part in inspections alongside professional inspectors. Originally, the role was to offer an independent viewpoint, designed to counter any professional collusion or bias.


the exercise of authority in directing or managing the work of others. It is often distinguished from management by being more concerned with direction and influence than with stability and efficiency. It has lately become a key focus because of its deemed importance in effecting positive change in schools. Clearly, there are other relevant issues to consider: professional knowledge and understanding, values, and morality. The ability to make change happen will only improve schools if that change has merit, regardless of the leadership skills employed.

learned helplessness

a psychological term for a complete sense of powerlessness where the individual feels, owing to bad experiences, that no action of theirs can alter their position or achieve success.


a vast literature surrounds this topic, and much debate, linked to rival theories which address it. The least controversial that can be said of the term is that it refers to some sort of cognitive, behavioural, or affective change or development in the individual, associated with interaction with external forces.

learning analytics

the collection and analysis of a range of data about learners and their contexts with the purpose of adapting and improving the learning environment in response. It is more common in the USA. It has been criticised for risking a mechanistic approach to student experience and an unduly quantitative perspective on learning.

learning cell

a teaching approach whereby a group of learners study together, largely self-directed, for a particular purpose and over an agreed time-span.

learning commons

the integration of various student services within an academic library. It typically involves the availability of traditional research and reference facilities but combined with access to modern technology of various forms. In some cases, provision is also made for students to socialise and so noise toleration is much more liberal than in the past. 

learning curve

the rate of progress by a learner in a new situation or in new skills. A steep learning curve indicates that high demands are made on the learner, that much needs to be understood quickly.

learning needs

support required in a situation by a learner to enable them to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills.

learning society

an idealistic political term for the phenomenon whereby everyone in society would be engaged in and committed to learning throughout life. It is heavily linked to economic interests, it being most associated with improving and upgrading skills for work.

learning style

the (preferred) way in which an individual typically receives and processes new information. Sometimes it is considered in a fixed way and teachers are encouraged to adapt teaching to this; others see the role of teachers as aiding the development of a range of effective learning strategies, rather than playing to a learner's fixed, and perhaps restricting, 'style'.

learning support

extra help for pupils either in the form of specialist teaching support or in the form of specially designed resources. While sometimes targeted at those excelling in a particular area, it is most commonly linked to efforts to improve the performance of learners who are not progressing well.

learning walk

a collaborative activity, common to institutional or professional development, where participants explore together a particular shared issue. It may involve gathering evidence and evaluating performance, or agreeing strategies or implementation plans.

left wing

descriptive of socialist or radical political views.


in politics, a range of views which focus on individual freedom, free trade, and moderate social reform. In education, it is an approach which favours broadening general knowledge, cultural activities, and experience over technical or utilitarian training. Socially, it is a term associated with more permissive and broadminded attitudes which came into prominence in the 1960s.


a version of liberalism which gives most importance to the concept of free choice. There should be a minimal state guaranteeing protection against force or theft but otherwise people should be free to do as they wish.

Likert scale

a scale, commonly used in questionnaires, which measures the degree to which people agree or disagree with a statement. It usually has a 5-point scale but other configurations also exist. It is named after the US psychologist Rensis Likert (1903-1981).


a psychological term for the experience of transition where one is on the threshold of a new experience or environment and encounters some uncertainty, disorientation, and a loss of identity.


the ability to read and write. The judgement as to what level of competence constitutes 'literacy' varies over time and across cultures. Increasingly, the term 'literacies' is used to stress the range of skills involved and the different media contexts such as audio-visual and electronic.

literature search

the process of identifying sources, such as books and journal articles, related to a topic under study.

logical positivism

a philosophical position which holds that statements are only meaningful if they can be empirically verified or if they can be verified by logical analysis. It dates from the 1930s but was dogged by the problem that it was not clear that its own principles could pass its own test for meaningfulness.

lower order questioning

questions which demand little of the learner beyond factual recall. They are principally designed to test knowledge rather than higher order questioning which can have a role in creating or expanding knowledge.