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James Nottingham

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  • Teacher, Consultant, Author
  • Creator of The Learning Pit®
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA)
  • Co-Founder of

James Nottingham is the creator of The Learning Pit as well as a sought-after keynote speaker and author of 11 books about teaching, learning and leadership. He created our freelance company to share some of the best ways to strengthen learning in schools, nurseries, and colleges. 

Growing up, James was one of the ‘naughty kids’ at school; he spent more time on detention than he cares to remember and was expelled twice from secondary school. At 16, his father kicked him out, leading to an itinerant life of farm and factory work before finding his feet as a school volunteer in squatter camps in apartheid South Africa. On his return to the UK, he took a job as a teaching assistant at a school for deaf children, before training to be a teacher.

In 1999, James appeared in a TV documentary about Philosophy for Children (P4C), leading to an invitation to set up a social regeneration project in North East England. This multi-million-pound initiative won many prestigious awards for strengthening young people’s lives, including “helping young people to become clearer, more accurate, less self-contradictory and more aware of other arguments and values before reaching a conclusion.” Independent research by two universities also found strong correlations between project inputs and national test improvements.

As the European funding for this project wound down, James set up an independent consultancy to share the best practices with a wider audience. This company engages with educators on every continent (except Antarctica!). James splits his time between giving keynote speeches, leading his team, writing books, and offering demonstration lessons (give him any class, any age, and he’ll show some of the best ways to move students from surface to deep learning).

James has written 11 books for teachers, leaders, support staff, and parents. Many are bestsellers, and most have been translated into Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish (with Japanese titles coming soon)

“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 you wanting to do things differently without a bag of guilt to weigh you down.
Professor Mick Waters
“James Nottingham offers all educators an inspirational guide to creating lessons that are thought-provoking and meaningful, and at the same time theoretically sound.”
Professor Carol Dweck
“James Nottingham has developed a rare skill for blending arresting anecdotes, hard-edged research and practical advice into a truly compelling narrative.” 
Professor Barry Hymer
“James has deep knowledge of schooling and a great sense of humour, but most important there is seeming no challenge he is not prepared to undertake to make a difference to the learning lives of children.”
Professor John Hattie

Notable highlights and milestones

  • Creating and directing Challenging Learning, an award-winning company held in the highest esteem for combining international expertise with local knowledge, as well as its dedication to staying with partnership organisations until they have realised their vision for their staff and students.
  • Developing into one of the best regarded keynote speakers in education, headlining regional, national and international conferences across the world.
  • Creating and sharing The Learning Pit (2007), a model now so popular you can find 200 million references online.
  • Writing 11 books for teachers, leaders, and parents. Many of these are bestsellers – including the number one bestselling educational book in Sweden – and most are translated into multiple languages.
  • Working closely with Carol Dweck, the professor of psychology behind the Growth Mindset research. To date, Dweck & Nottingham have presented at 30 conferences together.
  • Securing the official licence for Visible Learning projects across Scandinavia, involving a close collaboration with John Hattie from 2013-2019.
  • Co-founding and supporting many charitable and social equity initiatives, including setting up and funding, an international resource and collaboration cooperative for Philosophy for Children.

Awards and qualifications

  • 2020: FRSA – made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts for outstanding achievements to social progress and development.
  • 2015: Named by Skolvärlden (National Teaching Union of Sweden) as ‘one of the most highly-regarded and talked about names in the world of school development.’
  • 2014: Included in the Future 500, a ‘definitive list of the UK’s most forward thinking and creative innovators’.
  • 2005: One North East – Special Recognition Award for outstanding contribution to the progress and achievement of young people in the North East of England.
  • 1996: BA (hons.) QTS – Bachelor of Arts in Education with Qualified Teacher Status: Lancaster University, First Class Honours.
  • 1993: Student of the Year, University of Connecticut, USA – recognising social engagement and student outreach to the wider community.
  • 1989: Dip. TEFL – Diploma for Teaching English as a Foreign Language, Cambridge University, Distinction.

Published Books & Articles

  1. Nottingham, J.A. (2020). The Learning Pit. Alnwick, Northumberland, UK: Challenging Learning.
  2. Nottingham, J.A., Nottingham, J., & Bollom, T. M. (2019). Learning Challenge Lessons: Secondary ELA. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  3. Nottingham. J. A. & Larsson B. (2018). Challenging Mindset: Why a Growth Mindset Makes a Difference in Learning – and What to Do When It Doesn’t. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  4. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2018). Challenging Early Learning. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  5. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2018). Learning Challenge Lessons: Primary. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  6. Nottingham, J.A. (2017). The Learning Challenge: How to Guide Your Students Through the Learning Pit. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  7. Nottingham, J.A. & Nottingham, J. (2017). Challenging Learning Through Feedback. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  8. Nottingham, J.A., Nottingham, J., & Renton, T. M. (2016). Challenging Learning Through Dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  9. Nottingham. J. A. (2016). Challenging Learning (2nd ed.). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  10. Nottingham, J. A. (2013). Encouraging Learning: How You Can Help Children Learn. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.
  11. Nottingham, J.A. (2010). Challenging Learning (1sted.): Theory, Effective Practice and Lesson Ideas to Create Optimal Learning in the Classroom. Alnwick, Northumberland, UK: JN Publishing.
  12. Nottingham, J.A. (2007). Exploring the Learning Pit. Teaching Thinking and Creativity, 8:2(23), 64–68. Birmingham, UK: Imaginative Minds

Beyond Work

A few facts you might find interesting about James …

  • He lives on the English-Scottish border with his wife, three children, and five miniature sausage dogs. From their home, they have views of Lindisfarne, the Holy Island where the Vikings first landed in Britain in AD 793.
  • His favourite part of consultancy life is running demo lessons; give him any group of students and he’ll show you how to guide students through the Learning Pit in practice. In 2018, he ran some demos at Kringlaskolan in Sweden. Soon after, one of their students, Greta Thunberg, went on strike … (he doesn’t think the two events are connected).
  • He once had a cup of tea with Nobel Peace Prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  • His mother died when he was 11; his father headed off to the Falklands War a few months later; he was unsuccessful in saving his school friend dying from an asthma attack aged 13, and the CPR he administered failed to save a student during his first teaching job.
  • On 15 June 1996, he was seconds away from the largest bomb explosion in Britain since WWII, detonated by the IRA in Manchester city centre. That same afternoon, he watched Gazza score one of the best goals ever against Scotland in Euro’96.
  • He regrets not learning any other languages – apart from British Sign Language in 80s, which he has now all but forgotten – but plans to put that right when he hangs up his work boots. The problem is, which language(s) to choose!
  • He enjoys taking part in, talking about, and watching sports (particularly football) – although the only one he’s actually any good at is swimming.
  • He met the band, James, in a bar in Connecticut in May 1994 and enjoyed a few drinks with them. One of their subsequent hits, Getting Away With It (All Messed Up) feels like the theme tune to his life.
  • The furthest north he’s ever been is Tromsø, Norway (70°N) and the furthest south is Invercargill, NZ (46°S).
  • He has 5 tattoos (so far).

Profile Images

If you have booked James to speak at your event, then you are welcome to use any of the photographs on this page. In all other cases, you should check with before using any of our images.

Most of the photographs were taken by Andrew Billington or members of the our team. All images are copyrighted by (part of the Challenging Learning group).

Studio Shots
Action Shots

Profile Images

If you have booked James to speak at your event, then you are welcome to use any of the photographs on this page. In all other cases, you should check with Challenging Learning before using any of our images.

Most of the photographs were taken by Andrew Billington or members of the CL team. All images are copyrighted by Challenging Learning.

Studio Shots

Action Shots

Social Media

You can connect with James through these social media platforms:


Consultant, Author, Keynote Speaker

This site represents two tradenames:


This trademark is held by James Nottingham (reg. No. 6.381.157) Uses of the Learning Pit for educational and not-for-profit purposes are usually permitted when seeking permission via this site.


This is the name of the group of companies founded by James Nottingham (full details shown on the Contact Us page). It is also the name of his first book.

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