Best Practice

Executive function: Teaching vital skills for early years and primary pupils

What are executive function skills and why could they be crucial to the progress and achievement of primary pupils – especially those growing up with disadvantage? Laura McPhee explains and looks at the work of one primary school
Image: Adobe Stock

The benefits of metacognition are widely accepted in education – but what exactly are executive function skills and how can they help our young learners?

The phrase “executive function” refers to a set of skills including, but not limited to, the capacity to plan ahead, meet goals, exercise self-control, and stay focused despite distractions.


How are these skills developed?

Our genes provide the blueprint for learning these skills, but they develop through experiences and practice. The foundation is laid in infancy when babies first learn to pay attention.

Relationships with care-givers are particularly important at this stage. Something as simple as playing a game of “peekaboo” can help build the early foundations of working memory and self-control as a baby anticipates the surprise.

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