Developing Writing

Lakes College

This project aimed to establish a planning tool in vocational areas, to help learners complete longer writing tasks, and to build a bridge between English and vocational subjects.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway.


Lakes College is a General Further Education College based in West Cumbria, offering a broad range of subjects from Level 1 to Foundation Degree.

This project initially was to liaise with a group of Level 3 Public Services learners, most of whom had achieved a GCSE in English, to help them plan and draft a report. We chose this group because their tutor reported that although they had passed their English qualification (mostly at school) they lacked the skills to do this effectively.

Report writing is also a key component of the new T Levels programme, and it has been added to the new City and Guilds 4748 Functional Skills qualification. Therefore, we felt that it was important to develop planning and writing skills for reports, specifically in recognition of their prominence on current examination specifications.


Before starting the project, we identified the key writing skills that a learner should be able to demonstrate if they have achieved a grade 4 or above: “organise information and ideas, using structural and

grammatical features to support coherence and cohesion of texts”, which are from GCSE English Assessment Objective 5. These skills are required across many subjects. However, learners seemed not to make that link, and so when asked to apply those skills under a different context, became confused and as a result were not producing writing that was organised in a logical way. For example, Pheonix, a Public Services learner, did not realise that she could use the same planning technique and structure that she was practising in GCSE English to plan her vocational coursework, so would not plan it, run out of ideas, and her writing would start to lose focus.

We aimed to help learners to overcome this, by identifying and linking the skills they developed when they were completing their English qualifications and transfer them to their continued development within their chosen vocation. In our identified focus group, we recognised that the learners were not applying the skills they learned in GCSE English, and identified further skills, such as report writing, that they were not taught, because they were not on the syllabus.



  • Identified the cohort to work with and a task to focus on (planning a report)
  • Ran a 30-minute session where we first established what the learners knew about report writing and their opinions on planning.
  • We worked with the learners to use both planning sheets to plan their report, leaving some time at the end for feedback. First, they completed a mind-map that was split into sections based on the different criteria their needed for the report (Appendix 3). Once they were ready, they then used the second planning grid (Appendix 3) to help them clarify a logical order to write these ideas.
  • We intended to go back and support the learners further, however, due to remote learning, this did not happen.

Therefore, we changed focus to planning writing in GCSE and Functional Skills classes. We chose these classes as we felt that their writing would improve if they were taught how to plan and structure effectively. We have maintained contact with a student from the original cohort who agreed to be a case study (Pheonix) while we gathered evidence from our own classes. This has led us to gather a range of evidence from multiple levels, and so has helped us evaluate the impact of the planning tool across a wide range of students. For example, using the planning tool in Functional Skills Level 2 has helped us to engage learners in writing tasks; as one learner remarked: ‘I did not like writing before, so I would just give up, because it is hard to think of ideas, [but] once I’ve planned it is easier.’

We then:

  • Chose a GCSE examination creative writing topic, and mind-mapped ideas as a group, using Microsoft Whiteboard.
  • The learners then individually chose one of these ideas and planned 5 paragraphs.
  • The next lesson, they then used these plans to write their question 5 response.
  • Learners were asked to reflect and give feedback, however this was more successful as a face-to-face conversation, than online. Some learners were asked specifically about a link between planning in English and planning in vocational areas and said they would ‘think about planning’ their vocational coursework, however not all responded or said that they would.

Professional Learning: Evidence of changes in teaching, learning and assessment practices

Learner ideas in a mind map

This learner put all their ideas down and used the tool to help organise these.

This project has emphasised the importance of teaching learners to plan their writing. After they have used the planning tool and they have seen the benefit this has in the quality and length of their writing, and their improved marks, we need to then establish a specific connection between English and their wider vocational qualification or career path by teaching them that they should plan every extended writing response using the same structure.

Not only does planning improve their writing content, in terms of their structure and cohesion, it helps them to generate ideas and make it more likely that they will achieve the target word count in their work (see Appendix 4 for examples). Planning, whether it is written down using a planning tool, diary or completed in a more informal matter (such as through a discussion) is an essential skill, but often one that our learners can put up a lot of resistance to, telling us that they ‘never plan.’ For learners like Pheonix, who do not see the connection and plan in English lessons but not in their vocational work, I will be making a clearer connection between planning and vocational courses in my lessons and need to liaise with vocational tutors to help them make this connection clear in their course too.

We are also planning to include more report writing in our GCSE and Functional Skills scheme of work from last year, reflecting learning from this project that learners who had achieved a pass in English still struggle to write assignments in their vocational areas. We can use our planning tool to support learners with this and teach them the underpinning skills of writing – paragraphs, structure, cohesion, and coherence while demonstrating that these writing skills are universal, no matter what vocational course they are on or which career path they want to follow.

Evidence of improved collaboration and changes in organisation practices

The intention of the project was to support learners and vocational colleagues to utilise the skills learners had been taught on their GCSE or Functional Skills course and in particular planning writing using a simple tool we devised. The outcomes were far more wide reaching.

We shifted our relationship with vocational tutors to one of cooperation with us supporting them to help learners develop their report writing skills which is a fundamental part of their course. The tool has been amended so vocational tutors can use it without the input of English tutors.

We shared our results with the rest of the English team, and we are now including teaching and implementing planning for all writing activities which has helped learners to develop their writing skills.

Throughout the project, we have collaborated with learners, and this has resulted in an improved dialogue between us about what our English lessons include, why, and how the skills that they learn can be used not only in their vocation, but in their future workplace and life. Taking this forward, next year we plan to revisit the ‘get to know you’ conversations we have with learners at the start of the year and throughout and use these to adapt how we approach topics and activities.

Moving forward the college is utilising the outcomes of this project to re-ignite the Whole Organisation Approach to developing learners’ English skills as part of the strategic plan to introduce the new T Levels (for more information, see Appendix 5).

Evidence of improvement in learners’ achievements, retention and progression

During the first phase of the project, we received some positive feedback from both the learners and the vocational tutor. A learner, who previously did not plan their writing, emailed after the session, and said: ‘I found it really useful, I’m going to be using it a lot.’ The tutor also said that she could see that it was helping them to simplify report writing, however the deadline was a few weeks away at the time of our conversation.

Pheonix, a case study student, reported that she ‘finds planning a lot easier now’ and she feels it has ‘improved [her] writing.’ One of Pheonix’s writing targets was to choose a simpler idea and describe it in detail, rather than losing focus and writing several different ideas into the same story. The planning grid has helped her to do this by structuring around a central idea and working out how it will all fit together before she begins to write. This has led Pheonix to improve her marks, and work at a grade above her original GCSE grade. Pheonix also reported that she feels less overwhelmed by planning and writing than she did prior to the project (see Appendix 4 for examples of her writing)

Prior to this project, I would suggest to learners that they should plan their writing tasks, which some did, but not provide any guidance as to how they did it, working on the assumption that they knew how to plan already. Some learners would then say they ‘didn’t plan’ and I would let them start writing. However, now I use this format with all my classes, more learners are planning, and producing more coherent and logical stories as a result.

For example, our second case study, Robert, prefers to work independently. After being shown the planning tool once, he has used it for creative writing questions and has increased his score from 17 marks (likely to get a grade 3) for writing without a plan, to 25 with a plan (on track for a grade 4 or 5)- see Appendix 4 for an example. When asked what made him decide to start planning, after three years on the GCSE resit programme not doing so, he said that he was ‘wanting to do anything to get extra marks.’ Robert also said that he did not ‘really use planning for the structure,’ but more so that he could get all his ideas on the page. He, and learners who also feel this way, would benefit from still being encouraged to use the mind-map element, but could number their ideas on that to create an order rather than using further time to organise the ideas into paragraphs on the second planning document.

Learning from this project

The key things we learnt from this project are:

  1. Learners do not generalise what they have learned in GCSE or Functional Skills English and use it elsewhere (or even in the English class). For example learners will have been taught how to plan writing whilst at school but few did, and they do not transfer the skill to their vocational course. We as English teachers must address this if learners are to improve their writing skills needed for learning, work, and life. This has led to us planning an organisational strategy to develop and apply English skills across the college (see Appendix 5)
  2. English tutors must make clear, explicit, and regular links with vocational writing tasks, and subsequently at work, to help learners recognise the transferable skills and how it will support them elsewhere.
  3. Collaboration and communication with learners about specific concerns followed up by subsequent chats about how your change has made a difference are so valuable.
  4. Learners benefit the most when English and vocational tutors work collaboratively to develop the learners’ English skills.
  5. Skills can be developed for GCSE and Functional skills writing tasks using a range of genres from vocational areas, for example report writing, to help learners see how the skills can be applied across a range of different contexts. If our planning tool is used in English and Vocational courses in the future, it can help us further bridge the gap between vocational courses and English for the learners, which will help them to transfer their English skills into their assignments.