Learning on purpose

Ten lessons in placing student agency
at the heart of schools


Leading Education Series #6


In 2018, Mary Hudson (Director of the Leadership Institute) and Katherine Adnett (then Director of the Centre for Innovation), at the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia (AISSA), initiated two bold innovation programs for cohorts of schools to work together – the Student Agency Lab and the MetaPraxis Project.

The Student Agency Lab

The Student Agency Lab, led by Charles Leadbeater, was built on the ideas he set out in his 2017 CSE Seminar Series Paper (#269, December), Student Agency: Learning to make a difference, which provides a framework for developing student agency as individual, collaborative and collective capacity across different domains
(moral, creative, economic, social).
The aim of ‘the A Lab’, as it became known, was to help schools help one another to develop practical approaches to developing greater agency among students; and to follow through the implications of greater student agency for the role of teachers, as well as the organisation and leadership of the whole school. Eighteen schools signed up to be part of the three-year lab, developing and testing hypotheses about how student agency could be deepened and recognised. This paper sets out some of the main lessons the A Lab schools have learned.

The MetaPraxis Project

The MetaPraxis Project, led by Michael Bunce, worked with schools to facilitate the conceptualisation, design and leadership of interdisciplinary learning projects in primary, secondary and tertiary contexts. A central focus of the MetaPraxis Project has been the development of reflexive meta-cognitive skills. The project’s philosophy views social, collaborative, and reflexive interdisciplinary learning environments as natural contexts within which to establish and nurture complex capabilities, with significant potential to promote agency and transfer of expertise across diverse contexts.
The MetaPraxis Project celebrates the development, integration, and transfer of knowledge, understanding, and cognitive and practical capabilities that emerge from and transcend the bounds of individual disciplines, inspired by synergies between creativity and learning in creative arts practice. The project has sought to enable learners and teachers by modelling and enhancing the opportunity for self-directed and collaborative learning, establishing conditions that promote agency, and exploring integrative ways of thinking about learning design, practice, and impact for individuals and learning communities. A CSE paper on that project, MetaPraxis: Learning in a floating world of disciplines, will be published shortly.


Given the close connection between the philosophy and practice of the two projects, Charles and Michael have acted as critical friends: advising, challenging, supporting and inspiring practitioners as they undertake the work. In turn, schools have made connections across the projects to collaborate in practice and research. Agency often emerges in interdisciplinary learning environments; the ‘meta-disciplinary’ learning contexts of MetaPraxis establish reflexive conditions in which students and teachers can learn to develop and acquire agency for themselves and with others.
The aim of these two linked papers is to capture the core ideas developed by the schools in the two projects. In the course of 2022 they will be accompanied by a series of podcasts which delve into the work of the schools and their insights into agency and interdisciplinary learning. Those podcasts are curated by the educational innovator Louka Parry. At time of publication, the first of these has been released.

Overview & Preview

5 Chapters

21 Pages

This paper, in partnership with the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia, presents lessons participating schools learned from the three-year Student Agency Lab project. The ‘A Lab’ helped schools help one another develop practical approaches to achieving greater agency among students; and to explore the role of teachers, as well as the organisation and leadership of the whole school. The lessons learned come under the following headings: Learning on purpose; Dynamic capability; Philosophy, product, practice; Students bring it to life; Teachers as agents; Creating new patterns; Recognising agency; Strategies for change; The power of narrative; and Whole-school leadership. The paper concludes with comments on the implications for student agency and school systems.

About the author.

Charles Leadbeater is an internationally renowned author and advisor on innovation, including to the OECD’s 2030 framework. He is a co-director of the System Innovation Initiative at the Rockwool Foundation in Copenhagen. From Personalisation through Participation (Demos, 2004), through to his last CSE Seminar Series Paper Student Agency: Learning to make a difference (2017), he has advocated student agency should be core to effective and engaging learning.

Sample Pages

Agency is not action for the sake of it. Nor is it simply offering students more choice from a pre-set menu, nor an occasional voice to give feedback on their teachers. Student agency is about pursuing learning for a purpose. It is about understanding the connection between the why and how of learning.


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Leading Education Series #6

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