Sometimes it's nice to be lost

The Action Research Forest

Seeing the wood and the trees: the contributions of OTLA 8 practitioners towards the growth and development of action research in further education

Claire Collins + Dr Vicky Butterby

Project Director and Programme Manager

Anthology of Practitioner Action Research Reports 2021-22


As each iteration of the Outstanding Teaching Learning and Assessment (OTLA) programme draws to a close, we hold a celebration and sharing event. Our sharing event is one of the highlights of our work on the OTLA programme, as it is a rare opportunity for us to come together as a collective to connect with, and learn from, one another. Over the course of the day, individual project teams share their research findings, reflect upon their professional and personal journeys and consider their next steps as action researchers. Our celebration and sharing events are usually a noisy affair, punctuated with laughter, deep discussion and challenging questions about what it means to be an action researcher in our highly complex, and wonderfully diverse, Further Education (FE) sector.

Professor Emerita Jean McNiff recently described action research as ‘not a technique to be applied, but a practice to be lived’ (McNiff, 2022) and this year, we employed the metaphor of a forest to help guide us through the day and situate our research practices as lived experiences within our teaching and learning communities. Drawing on the work of forester and author, Peter Wohlleben (2016), we were able to appreciate some of the similarities between forest networks and action research communities, extending some of Wohlleben’s reflections on what is required for healthy forest growth and development to consider how action research as a ‘lived practice’ can help create conditions that have the capacity to breathe new life into tired teaching spaces. Just as healthy forest networks are intricately connected through their canopies and root systems, and buzzing with life, action research activities and connections can invigorate and energise educators to free themselves (at least in part) from imposed practices: firstly, about ‘what works’ in education and secondly, about who is qualified to make these judgements. Just as growth within a forest is simultaneously visible and invisible, with feelers sent into open spaces and deep underground, the work of action researchers within FE occurs both in plain sight and deep within its undergrowth. Hidden between the cracks of long-established systems and approaches, action researchers are able to push their way through the dead wood, working together to reuse, recycle and repurpose educational curricula to ensure that learner-centred practices are at the heart of FE.

At the end of this year’s programme at the final sharing event, we facilitated a roots and leaves activity, which helped us to appreciate and understand how engaging in action research can make a difference to professional practices within FE. First, we asked people to share their ‘action research roots’, to tell us about the connections they had made and nurtured throughout the programme. Then later in the day, we gathered our‘canopy of leaves’, helping illuminate what practitioners wanted togrow from theiraction research projects moving forwards. Throughout this think piece, we draw on responses to the roots and leaves activity, alongside our day-to-day work on the OTLA 8 programme, to consider how action research within FE has the potential to:

  • Seed and grow sustainable research communities.
  • nurture safe and respectful spaces for developing and sharing practice.
  • encourage compassionate, social practices within teaching and learning spaces that centre relationship building, promote social justice and critique marketized approaches to education.
  • ignite curiosity and support the deepening of contextualised, co-created knowledges within our sector.
rocks and moss

Growing sustainable research communities in Further Education

A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a “wood wide web” of soil fungi that connects vegetation in an intimate network that allows the sharing of an enormous amount of information and goods.

– Tim Flannery (in Wohlleben,2016)

This year’s programme has once again necessitated practitioner action researchers working against a backdrop of uncertainty, as teaching and learning communities have had to adapt to the various ‘new normals’ that the Covid-19 global pandemic has bestowed upon them. In many instances, learners and teachers were back in face-to-face contact, with others taking tentative steps towards their physical classrooms and workshop spaces. In some instances, teaching was still taking place remotely, with a mix of blended learning, online classes and one to one work. The pandemic has cast, and continues to cast, its shadow over both our working and personal lives; many learners and colleagues have lost loved ones, and staff and learner absences through sickness or through shielding have been inevitable, leading to ever-widening gaps in learning, short notice cover work, and increasing withdrawal from re-energising Continuous Professional Development (CPD) opportunities.

In this extremely testing climate, described by one teacher as ‘surviving rather than thriving’, asking people to ‘go above and beyond’ their day-to-day roles to critically explore their teaching and learning practices as part of an action research project seemed a very big ask. When trees are unhappy, they shed their leaves to conserve energy, and for some, the shedding of anything other than an immediate concern for supporting learners to progress was an entirely understandable course of action.

But action research has an uncanny way of bringing people together, particularly when resources are scarce and there is a real and pressing need to think outside the box. Given the exceptionally challenging circumstances described above, could action research be considered as a form of personal as well as professional nourishment, as a gentle way of building community and offering mutual support and comfort to one another in a time of crisis?

For those who were involved in this year’s projects, the formation of practical research communities -particularly those that were created across diverse departments and between those with very different roles -were highly valued. These communities, which were championed and/or facilitated by mentors, enabled learners and teachers to connect beyond assessment outcomes and learning criteria, to consider not only what they were learning, but how they might apply their learning within other aspects of their lives. For example, learners at Haringey Adult Learning and Skills Service supported one another to apply their language learning so that their voices could be heard in relation to housing issues within their local community, and deaf learners at City Lit applied their English, British Sign Language and digital skills to re-imagine a college-wide charity event so that it became more inclusive. Staff teams were also able to work more closely together, with research meetings providing much needed time and space for colleagues to reflect on past action and discuss ‘what next?’ Staff in diverse roles and from different departments were able to draw upon one another’s guidance and expertise, helping in some instances to ‘tackle old problems in new ways’ and move towards a collective responsibility for practice improvement, as these responses to the roots and canopy activity illustrate:

Q. What connections have you made and/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

Staff across subjects and departments, external agencies (now partners)’

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘I hope a desire for more action researchers to come forward within our organisation. I also hope the great relationships we have built with important stakeholders. I hope a better environment for our learners.’

The development of these cross-organisational working practices through action research activity can help contribute to refreshing and strengthening collaborative working culture within organisations (described by Kemmis et al, 2014 as understanding the site’s ‘practice architectures’). We can again compare this to a healthy forest, which is nurtured and nourished through the mutual relationships that are established and grown between flora and fauna. Furthermore, widening stakeholder involvement in relation to the development of effective teaching and learning strategies, also encourages a shift away from siloed (individualistic) practices towards holistic educative practices that are firmly rooted in, and deeply responsive to, learners’ lives.

trees in a forest

Cultivating safe and respectful spaces for professional and practice development

When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you “help” individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft.

– Peter Wohlleben

In a forest environment, information is continually shared, which supports the health and development of the entire ecosystem. These ‘rhizomatic connections’ are equally important in our own work in FE, as they forge important lines of communication that enable and encourage shared learning within and across organisations (Sidebottom and Mycroft, 2018). Over the course of the OTLA 8 programme, it was exciting to notice where and how these connections developed, with practice being discussed, shared and critiqued both in the open (through organised meetings and dissemination events) and below the surface (through informal in person and/ or online conversations between practitioners). In many instances, OTLA 8 Research Group Leads (RGLs) and mentors were able to operate as metaphorical switchboards, linking those who had similar research interests, common experiences or shared teaching and learning challenges. These new (or in some cases, renewed) relationships between participants within and across organisations helped cultivate fresh ideas and sparked innovative approaches to teaching and learning support. Nurtured by action research as a methodology that encourages questioning, risk taking, critical thinking, self-reflection and challenge, the OTLA 8 programme was able to provide much needed space and time for FE practitioners to act as critical friends for one another, access mentoring support and actively engage with learners and colleagues as co-researchers. In several cases, practitioners spoke about feeling energised by the process, as they felt that their working practices and professional values were becoming more closely aligned:

Q. What connections have you made and/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

‘Connections with other programme teams all working to try and make FE an even better place to work and study’.

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘A desire to challenge inequalities within educational spaces (and beyond)’.

In a similar vein, the OTLA team were able to work closely this year with colleagues facilitating other ETF programmes, including the Advanced Practitioner Programme, Maths and SEND Centres for Excellence and the Essential Digital Skills team. Coming together with other programme facilitators helped generate a collaborative understanding of the current challenges within FE, the internal and external support systems being developed in response, and where programmes needed to stand together to better understand and help meet the needs of our participants. Our joint meetings also enabled good news stories to be shared, collaborative CPD opportunities to be promoted, and respectful challenge to be offered to one another regarding how programmes could be further strengthened and developed. Working in this collaborative, non-competitive way helped us to stray across boundaries and appreciate fresh growth across the sector, helping to rhizomatically unite previously disparate patches of woodland to further develop, encourage and extend the rich and diverse forest of home-grown research that is currently being produced by those who are working and learning within FE.

Rhizomatic working has energy, it brings an activist focus by tunnelling its way out of the flowerbed, crossing disciplines and refusing to differentiate between gardens and wasteland: it is essentially democratising, revealing unseen demarcation lines before breaching them.

– Mycroft and Sidebottom, 2018, p.2

Paramount to the success of these spaces within the OTLA 8 programme (and also between the different research-based programmes on offer through the ETF) was the careful creation and nurturing of conditions that fostered respect and trust between practitioners (Donovan, 2021). This was especially important in instances where research topics and/ or findings threatened the status quo, either in their divergence from well-established practices/ dominant academic literatures and/or by their challenging of organisational policies/ hegemonic ideas about FE. In the current political climate, which posits education providers as businesses and learning as something that can be bought and sold (Smith, 2014; Kulz, 2017), the use of action research as a way of forging safe and respectful spaces for dialogue between individuals, organisations and professional development programmes felt extremely important. Through their engagement in action research, practitioners were able to challenge and reject some of the invasive knowledge systems that have been imposed upon FE from the outside, moving instead towards a more holistic form of learning about how to improve and develop teaching, learning and managerial practices, which stems from within.

bluebell field

Action Research as a social practice

Nevertheless, I have learned from this just how powerful a community of trees can be. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Trees could have come up with this old craftsperson’s saying. And because they know this intuitively, they do not hesitate to help each other out.

– Peter Wohlleben

We have established above that action research carried out through the OTLA programme enabled and nurtured relationships and collaborative development in FE settings. If we view action research through a ‘social practices’ lens, one that has been more commonly applied to the teaching of adult literacy over the last 30 years(Papen, 2005) we can also start to explore the power that it gives teachers and learners to work together to identify for themselveswhat works, where andwhyand, thereby, to improve teaching, learning and assessment from a situated and grounded perspective. Social practice theories refute the idea that there are forms of knowledge that, if learnt correctly, can be applied anywhere. By viewing action research as a social practice, we can also challenge the idea that the purpose of research in education is “to change educational practitioners’ practices so they will conform to educational theorists’ theories about how practice should be conducted.” (Kemmis, 2009, p.5) Instead, action research foregrounds the socially and historically-constructed nature of knowledge and gives teachers “intellectual and moral control over their practice” (IBID, p.6).

The importance of positioning teachers (and learners) as knowers, with the resources and aptitude to identify effective teaching, learning and assessmentpractices, cannot be understated. There is much rhetoric at the moment in FE about the use of ‘evidence informed’ practices, which can be interpreted narrowly and, as Wrigley (2016) argues far too simplistically and mistakenly, as being about teachers adopting approaches ‘proven’ through ‘objective research’ to work at a large scale. Knowledge is seen differently however on the OTLA programme. Here, we focused on teachers (as well as other professionals and, at times, learners) gathering and analysing their own evidence of what works or doesn’t work in particular contexts and with particular learners.

Viewing action research as social practice is not just about identifying/ developing ‘effective’ forms of teaching, learning and assessment it is also about understanding and responding to the consequences of our actions on ourselves and others (Kemmis 2009). It is, thereby, a practice rooted in our individual and collective values. This understanding can help us to problematise what it means for an educational practice to be ‘effective’ (effective as in ‘this assessment for learning practice really works!’) When considering the effectiveness of their actions, OTLA researchers tried to understand what consequences these actions had on their learners and on eachother. Virtues such as sensitivity and compassion were shown by those who took part in the OTLA programme. This was evident in their reports; that talked about how the action research had influenced and affected others and what was done to ensure people were included and their views understood and represented. Often, as McNiff notes in her editorial for ‘Value and Virtue in Practice-Based Research’ (2013), people’s values are not illuminated clearly enough during action research. McNiff (IBID) explains the importance of expressing our work in terms of our values so we can ‘shine where the light and life are’ and argue clearly that we are engaged in ‘virtuous practices’. In his closing piece for the same book, Julian Sternfurther stresses the importance of doing action research in our communities, where we can ‘live divided no more’.

An example of a virtuous OTLA project is illusrated here by the team at NOVUS (it was hard to choose one to share, as value-based decisions and virtuous actions were evident everywhere we looked in the OTLA 8 anthology of reports. The project involved people from across the prisons where it took place. People who had previously often been excluded from taking part in digital developments, such as vocational trainers in the prisons, were included from the outset, alongside prison learners as key creators and evaluators of the approaches being trailed. The action research “opened up an opportunity for the production of learner-led, co-designed digital skills development strategies and resources, which can be incorporated into future schemes of work as learners suggest the platforms and digital tasks they would like to explore next.”

Q. What connections have you made and/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

‘Building a community and sense ofshared understanding with learners.’

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘Really involving learners from the outset in new and authentic ways’

Conceptualising action research as social practice on OTLA encouraged us to create space for people(with each other, with their mentors and research group leads and with people from other projects) to identify what they knew and needed to find out in order to move their practice forwards in virtuous ways.

trees in a forest with some purple flowers in the background

Action research as a curiosity igniter

Perhaps we are poorer for having lost a possible explanation or richer for having gained a mystery.

– Peter Wohlleben

Throughout the programme activities, from our large events, to more intimate research round tables and project-level mentoring meetings,we expressed action research as a way to explore the unknown, to be curious. In doing so people ‘changed their practices, their understandings of their practices, and the conditions under which they practiced’ (Carr and Sometimes it's nice to be lostKemmis, 1986) This action research curiosity, to explore the unknown, is different to traditionalist social science, as it can lead to more questions than answers. However, as we noted above, action research processes or ‘meta practices’ (Kemmis, 2009) are, in themselves, enactments that can be virtuous and, also, incredibly fulfilling. There is ajoy in being able to wander along different paths and have the opportunity to explore lesser trod areas. Action researchers often had a general idea of where they wanted to go but they appreciated that they could take many different paths and that what they found there might not be what they expected (or hoped for!)

We, the OTLA programme team, reminded people that sometimes it’s good to be lost! They could re-route and that was OK. We encouraged people to appreciate that, in getting lost, they would almost always learn knew things and make new discoveries about their practice. As Jean McNiff reminded us recently (2022), ‘all movement is movement’ and it is the job of action researchers to identify the significance of what they are learning for themselves and others.

Thinking about the significance of our work is not always straightforward. As Jean McNiff outlined in a summer school we ran this year (McNiff, 2022), questions of significance invite us to consider the criteria against which our work will be judged and the standards that will be employed in that judgment. Jean also invited us to critique the notion of ‘impact’ and think instead of the influencethat our action research has/ could have on others. It is important, as many of the OTLA action researchers reminded us this year, to work with others to understand our influence on them so that, when we share more widely, we can express the trustworthiness and relatability of our work. This is in contrast to more widely held research values of reliability and validity and of the notion of rigor. Rigor, like ‘evidence-based’ is a concept in research that seems so ‘obviously correct’ and we had no wish to present ideas of research that were not rigorous. We interpreted this in different ways, however, using such concepts as ‘trustworthy triangulation’ (thanks to our colleague Dr Andy Convery for introducing us to this idea) when it came to identifying evidence of what was working or not (triangulating evidence in terms of time (before, during and after an intervention) and people (our own reflections, that of our peers and that of our learners.) Again, the ideas of trustworthiness and relatability were central here.

Q. What connections have you madeand/ or deepened during OTLA 8?

‘With myself! Thinking about my own impact (positive and negative) on my world’

Q. What will grow from your work this year?

‘More curiosity, greater space for creative, learner-centred thinking. Activism and further challenging of inequalities.’

Concluding thoughts

This year there was a tinge of sadness within the team, as the OTLA programme is coming to an end. However, action research is always more of a comma than a full stop, and we are excited to see how our forest of FE research will continue to grow and self-sustain left to its own creative devices. We will each take what we have learnt during our time on OTLA into our future work and lives.We have shared our reflections above on the symbiotic relationships between action research and community; the idea of knowledge co-creation, how we see action research as social practice and an ignitor of curiosity, and why this matters. We can see in the OTLA 8 anthology countless examples of projects that were values-driven and positioned teachers (and other educators), along with the learners they teach as ‘knowers’ and ‘effective practice’ asdeeply rooted in context and social purpose.In our often marginalised, ‘second chance’ sector, where we typically work with learners who are less heard, who are pushed to the peripheries of society and who feel less valued by education (Duckworth and Smith, 2019), the development of contextualised, learner-centred pedagogies and practices that feel meaningful and relevant is of the utmost importance. Through action research, we have an opportunity to work withlearners rather than doing tothem, to embrace our curiosities about teaching and learning and (rather than mindlessly following pre-determined routes and irrelevant signposts of success) explore the forest that is the further education sector together.

red mushroom

Carr, W. and Kemmis, S. (1986). Becoming Critical. Education, knowledge and action research. Lewes: Falmer.
Donovan, C. (2021). Professional Trust. [accessed 30.8.22].
Jones, S (2020). TES: How to put teacher-led research at the heart of FE [accessed 1.8.22].
Kemmis, S. et al. (2014). The Action Research Planner Doing Critical Participatory Action Research. 1st edition. Singapore: Springer.
Kemmis, S. (2009). ‘Action research as a practice‐based practice’. Journal of Educational Action Research.17(3), pp.463-474. DOI: 10.1080/09650790903093284.
Kulz. C. (2017). Factories for learning. Making race, class and inequality in the neoliberal academy.Manchester: Manchester University Press.
McNiff, J. (2022). Action Research Summer School 20.7.22.
McNiff, J. (2013). Value and Virtue in Practice-Based Research. Dorset: September Books.
Meaby, V., (2018) ‘Establishing Professional Learning Communities to Support the Promotion of Equality and Celebration of Diversity: Reflections from a North-East Community Learning Teacher’, Teaching in Lifelong Learning8(2). DOI:
Mycroft, L. and Sidebottom, K. (2018) ‘Constellations of practice’. In Bennett, B. and Smith, R. (eds) Identity and Resistance in Further Education. Abingdon: Routledge, pp170-179.
Papen, U. (2005). Adult Literacy as Social Practice. Oxon: Routledge.
Smith, R.(2015).‘College re-culturing, marketisation and knowledge: the meaning of incorporation’.Journal of Educational Administration and History. 47(1), pp.18-39. DOI:10.1080/00220620.2015.974145.
Wohlleben, P. (2016).The hidden life of trees: what they feel, how they communicate: discoveries from a secret world. William Collins: London.
Wrigley, T. (2016). ‘Not so simple: the problem with ‘evidence-based practice’ and the EEF toolkit’. Forum58(2), pp.237–252.

14c. Myerscough College

Motivating Learners with Creative Writing

Myerscough College

This project was designed to motivate learners at our land-based FE college to have an enjoyment of English through using creative writing. Through a series of activities, workshops and competitions, learners were enthused into the subject.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Learners who attend our college attend with the intention of following their passion or chosen career subject and see English (and maths) resits as an unwanted addition. Work is needed to change this perception and to inspire learners in order to find an enjoyment of the subject instead. ‘Teaching English and maths in FE: what works for vocational learners?’ (Allen, 2017) highlights the need for a motivational aspect in teaching English, relating to learners’ skills and interests and building on these. The project’s intention was to spark an interest in learners, through the use of creative writing tasks, a means of expression that has previously been seen as the most ‘fun’ part of English, by giving learners the opportunity for their work to be published and incentivising participation in creative writing workshops as well as other plans, such as inviting a famous poet to speak with learners at the college, integrating creative writing into every English session in starter activities and displaying poetry related to their subjects in their vocational area.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. It took place in the English department as well as cross-college, including the Out Centre in Liverpool. A number of the English teachers had some involvement, attending workshops and using resources from the project, and some were heavily involved in the project; running creative writing activities and reflecting on the outcomes regularly. The case studies focus on Functional Skills (FS) and GCSE learners who worked in the library in dedicated creative writing workshops held by external creative writing degree learners. This activity was designed to explore the impact on motivation. Learners in the project range from 14-16 school learners who attend for GCSE and FS English one day per week, and 16+ learners who are undertaking GCSE or FS as a resit following school. FS Levels are from Entry Level 2 to Level 1 inclusive, and these learners would not normally undertake creative writing as part of the course. The impact of these activities is also explored in the case studies.


The project took several angles. The first was to use creative writing starter activities in English sessions and explore the impact on learners. This was done using a variety of methods including post-it notes, a simple two question survey, speaking with learners and poll everywhere responses. This aspect of the project helped us to gain an insight into whether creative writing would be an effective method of engagement for learners across college. The starter activities ran from the very start of the year in September and are still running now most weeks. The aim of using these starter activities was to engage learners from the start of the session by allowing them to express their creativity and see these activities as fun and engaging introductions to English lessons.

The second aspect was introducing a motivational external speaker to run workshops for both staff and learners. This was poet Dr Mike Garry, who ran two learner workshops in the library in which he spoke about the impact reading has had on his life, how it can change yours and introduced some poetry to learners. The day with this poet was a success, with over 40 learners attending the workshops and 5 members of staff at the staff session. The learners were from the animal care provision and were brought to the sessions by their animal care lecturer. The lecturer was impressed, involved and reflected after the session that it had inspired her in her creative writing passion. In the animal care provision since this day the learners have participated in animal related poetry days and are focusing on their writing skills. We collected learner feedback on this which we have included in the appendices. Learners felt positive after these sessions and we witnessed disengaged learners actually check out library books following the session as a result. The staff workshop Dr Garry ran in the afternoon was attended by 5 members of staff, from Foundation Learning, the English Department and from the Quality Department. This was also recorded to be shared with the wider college. The feedback from this session was also good, and Dr Garry spoke about finding a passion for English and sharing this with learners. He gave practical advice and tools to use, which the English team have since implemented.

The third aspect was the creative writing workshops run by University College Lancashire (UCLan) learners in the library for a six-week programme. This gave learners from FS and GCSE programmes the opportunity to work with external practitioners and to explore the possibilities creative writing can give. A total of 25 learners attended these sessions; they worked on poetry writing and really had the time to focus on their writing styles. Each week the learners worked on a prepared mini lesson/session on different aspects of creative writing, from planning to editing. This also led to the opportunity of having work published in an anthology of works about Myerscough college. This opportunity was open to both staff and learners to help create a buzz around writing at the college and was advertised as a writing competition for all to be involved.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

There are several impacts to consider here. The overall ‘mission’ of the project was to improve motivation and passion for English through using creative writing, and so to evaluate the impact of this we must consider each aspect of the project and the impact of each.

Impact of creative writing starter activities

At the start of the year, we asked learners, as a starter activity, to write a word that comes to mind when they hear the word ‘reading’. Of these words, 50% of these were negative – (please refer to Appendix 4 for examples of the words shared). We have since done the same activity and the positive words have increased to 75%.
Discussing each activity with learners afterwards, asking them to reflect on how it made them feel and giving that space for learners to really think about the impact the starter activity had on their thought processes was impactful. This project allowed focus on this part of the lesson whereas usually it would be simply to engage learners as they arrive. It triggered the intention to really give time and reflection space to starter activities for both the teacher and the learners. After the Haiku poetry starter which uses 5-7-5 syllables in a 3 line poem for example, learners felt in some ways exposed, and it was important that we reflected on this and discussed it so that they could feel comfortable being creative in future. We have included a breakdown of the feedback from the haiku starter in the appendices.

Impact of poet

Dr Mike Garry definitely left a lasting impression on both staff and learners. Learners actively checked out books from the library after the workshop and were discussing the workshop animatedly. We ran a feedback survey with one of the groups and the results from this are included in the appendices. Having an external speaker (especially one so passionate) was a real talking point for both staff and learners, and allowed thoughts to focus on English, and discussing reading and creative writing.

Impact of workshops

Learners who have attended the workshops have produced poetry and written pieces of a high standard, and, when asked, have said that they have really enjoyed the sessions. All learners who attended the workshops will be entering the writing competition, as they were working on their piece whilst in the workshops. This has also created links between the English department at Myerscough and the local University Creative Writing Department, which we will continue to develop, and we will potentially run this style of project again next year. This could be an ongoing relationship, as it is supporting the degree learners with their project and is giving learners on our FS and GCSE programmes the opportunity to see writing as a potential career and to find enjoyment in writing.

Impact of anthology

The writing competition has had a huge impact on the college, one of the biggest from this project, to the point that in the staff room in the Quality Department, we found out that three members of the team have been published in the past. This discussion and the ‘buzz’ about writing at college is such an unexpected outcome of the project- unexpected, yet, perhaps predictable. We had predicted that we may be able to get this to happen, but it is unexpected just how much conversation is circulating around it and how many people have actively been involved in the competition (not necessarily by entering it). We have been bold with our interactions and advertising of the competition and have given senior leaders at the college entry forms, encouraging them to take part. A governor of the college was given one by the Director of Teaching and Learning and has entered a piece into the competition.

As part of the project was around the use of starter activities, we created a bank of creative writing starter activities which other team members have utilised and added to. This has allowed for discussion and standardisation of teaching approaches. One of the direct participants in the project works at one of our other campuses and is someone who we at the main campus have not collaborated with very much in the past due to distance. As a result of a lot of online learning/networking due to COVID-19 this collaboration has increased in recent years but has now increased much more due to us working on this project together.

As mentioned in the impact of Dr Mike Garry’s workshops section, an animal care lecturer who attended the workshop was intrigued and asked for support in developing their experience and confidence in using creative writing skills in their area. We were able to put her in touch with another member of staff from the same department who had been encouraging her learners to write poems about animals to express themselves. Again, this discussion and outcome would probably not have arisen if it was not for the project.

Organisational Development

Working with Darren at Croxteth was a development of our communication across centres. Although in the past we have shared resources, the project allowed us to work together much more closely and develop our working relationship which we will continue after the project. It helped us to realise that work is being doubled by us not collaborating more regularly. Using Teams has become much more normal since the Covid-19 pandemic began, and this has allowed for an easier communication between centres, which is important to continue. The bank of starter activity resources is something we will continue to develop and is an organisational change as a result of the project.

Building a working relationship with UCLan has also been a positive outcome, which we will continue to use and develop. The university learners there have been thrilled with the opportunity to develop their practice and they had a positive impact on learners at our college. Discussions have arisen about future collaboration which we will follow up on.

Working with the animal care provision at Preston campus has also been a development, in which the teachers there have been promoting English and creative writing with their learners, particularly after the Mike Garry session in which they felt enthused into previous passions with writing and creativity and they said it reminded them of their own personal love of reading, which they wanted to share with their learners.

Learning from this project

If we were to complete this project again, we would be inclined to focus more heavily on just one element. As we are so passionate about creative writing and English, we found it a bit too easy to get carried away into the several strands of the project. Our intention was to create a buzz about creative writing in the College, which we do feel we achieved, but we do think there were quite a lot of activities involved and so reflection for each has not been as thorough as it would have been if there was one key focus. We have chosen to focus our reflection mainly on the starter activities and the creative writing workshops, for which we completed case studies and clear reflection activities, but, for example, when considering the workshop with Dr Mike Garry, we could have done a lot more reflection and consideration of impact of this if we had fewer activities to focus our attention on.

We would have also been able to advertise the day with Mike Garry more thoroughly, while it was successful in some respects (mainly with learners) it was not very well attended by staff, and this could have been organised on a CPD day, so that more people could have attended. We were restricted by the speaker’s calendar here too, of course.

The aspect we feel has been the most successful is the creative writing workshops and the writing competition, because this has had the greatest reach in terms of participants. We have been able to advertise this through our marketing department and it has been shared with all colleagues across all sites through our newsletter.

We feel with fewer activities, this project would be easier to replicate across other organisations and the key focus would be to run a competition with writing as the central aspect, and to develop a bank of starter activities based on creative writing and focus on the impact and reflections from learners in terms of motivation and engagement in activities.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    We have built positive and collaborative relationships through the use of and collaboration on starter activities, with Croxteth Centre staff in particular. We have also built a new relationship between our General Education Department at Myerscough and the Creative Writing Department at UCLan, which we will continue after the project. In addition, we have built a working relationship with Dr Mike Garry, who has suggested that he would like to return and do further work with our learners; we now liaise on Twitter with different educational ideas. We feel that the time given to reflection and to focus on feelings with creative writing in terms of approach and motivation has helped learners to feel valued. It has also helped with the building of positive relationships between teachers and learners.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    In this project we applied techniques from Allen (2017), including ensuring that praise is given, focusing on motivating learners and also focusing on strengths as a base. This has been applied through the creative writing starter activities and also through the creative writing workshops. The book and its contents have been discussed and shared with project participants.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    The rationale for the whole project was to increase the motivation of learners, and to inspire them through the use of engaging creative writing activities. As these activities have been successful we would say this Professional Standard is one of the most vital for the project and that the impact on learners has been obvious. For example, through learner participation in the competition, which shows clear engagement as this is extra-curricular, and the quality of work produced in starter activities and in workshops, which demonstrates the learners’ new skills.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Feedback From One of the Starter Activities (Haiku Writing)

Appendix 4: Screenshot of Initial Feelings About Writing

Appendix 5: Feedback From M Garry Sessions.


Allan, D., (2017). Teaching English and maths in FE: what works for vocational learners? Los Angeles: Learning Matters.

14b. City Lit

Task-Based Learning

Centre for Universal Skills – City Lit

This project asked how task-based learning (TBL) might effect an immersive, productive and motivating experience for learners and promote the most in-demand common work skills such as problem-solving, collaborating and analysing. What is task-based learning and how does it differ across hearing and Deaf learning, ESOL and English, higher and lower levels? Would task-based targets prove meaningful for learners and tutors alike and improve their involvement in recording and recognising progress and achievement in non-accredited courses (RARPA)?

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The Centre for Universal Skills (US) aims to enable adults to develop the capabilities needed to participate, make progress and express themselves in a 21st century democracy. Our challenge is to develop a pedagogy aligned to this intent. We contended that a situated orientation meets this challenge, so that the task at hand draws learners in, demands they adopt a stance and frames the learning. Our focus on task-based learning was informed by a range of thinking and research, particularly Willis (1996) and Willis and Willis (2007). What does such an approach involve and how does it contrast with the presentation-practice-production (PPP) model? How would learning-targets, configured in a task-focused way, create a motivating experience for learners in contrast to more instrumentalised target-setting? Would such targets encourage learners to invest in and complete the tasks and enable them to relate their learning to wider purposes than solely linguistic ones?

Other Contextual Information

We investigated task-based learning (TBL) in two English classes for Deaf learners, Entry Level 3 and Level 2, and in Hearing classes for Pre-entry English and maths, Level 1 English, Entry Level 3, Level 1 and Level 2 ESOL and Cambridge Advanced. The classes were a mixture of online and face-to-face. Over 50 learners and eight tutors were involved.


Our approach mirrored a task-based learning experience: pre-task, task, evaluation and focus.

A) Pre-task. We discussed the principles of TBL, in particular performance before competence and meaning before form: what do these mean and how could they be materialised? However, in accordance with a TBL approach, discovering these answers was an aim of the project, to be achieved through the doing.

Tutors then decided whether they would focus on a task-based approach within the classroom or on task-based learning targets.

Some tutors also met with a more experienced tutor to discuss their ideas. This mentor was on-hand throughout the research to aid with reflections.

A Google Classroom was created for tutors to add their thoughts, film their reflections and add learners’ work.

B) The following tasks were worked on:

a) Entry Level 3 and Level 2 Deaf English classes:
• writing and sending a letter to an actual person, including visiting the post-office and engaging with a hearing non-BSL using employee
• creating live social media posts and commenting on each other’s posts
• fundraising for Children in Need including creating a YouTube video, setting up a crowdfunding page, redesigning the Pudsey Bear logo
• creating a chat show to evaluate task-based learning.

b) Pre-entry English and maths (hearing)
• taking photos of prices in shops and of receipts to use as a basis for maths work
• sending different messages to former teaching assistants, family members, friends and each other such as Christmas card messages, good luck messages, condolences
• independently writing and sending an email to a friend.

c) English for Life Level 1 (hearing)
• researching and writing a music review.

d) English Dialogue course (ESOL Level1- Level 2 hearing)
• writing and performing a play.

e) ESOL Entry Level 3, Level 1 and Level 2 (hearing)
• giving a presentation as part of their individual targets.

f) Cambridge English (hearing)
• individual tasks.

C) Final evaluation and focus on what has been learned
There was ongoing reflection by the tutors and, to a lesser extent, the learners. These were recorded in writing or video on the Google Classroom. Final surveys were also sent out to all participants and focus meetings held. The Deaf Level 2 learners created a chat show in which they reflected on their projects.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The most striking effect of the approach was the engagement and involvement of the learners. They became caught up and directed by the tasks: it was the tasks themselves that motivated and made demands of the learners calling them into being as learners and creators of the class. The most immediate jolting aspect of this approach took place in the Deaf English classes through the seemingly simple task of writing and posting a letter to someone. As the tutor said:

They all struggled to grasp that I was asking them to do something real and actually wanted them to write and post the letter.

a new Pudsey Bear logo to reflect deaf people

The learners would normally have had someone else do this for them. They were also struck by their need to role play communicating with a non-BSL using post-office worker. However, once thrown into the task, the learners found a way to communicate, particularly those who had struggled with the more abstract tasks of non-TBL classes. They began to develop strategies for communicating with hearing people. (See Appendix 2)

This strategy-building was also manifest in the Children in Need project. Within the fundraising, some learners set themselves the challenge of communicating with hearing strangers asking for directions without the aid of phones or writing, and of creating and editing a video of the process. The demands of the task overall effected a generative creativity – setting up a Just Giving webpage, creating a new Pudsey Bear logo to reflect deaf people, printing the logo on t-shirts to wear during the challenge, baking a Pudsey Bear cake, writing to the BBC and raising £395. Learners even extended the task to outside class time. One group spent a whole Sunday working with a videographer friend on their video, while another learner, usually reticent about homework, made a video of himself at work doing story-time with some hearing children whilst he used signs and no voice. He was amazed how well they could understand each other.

Similarly striking, if less dramatic, were the effects of task-oriented learning on the hearing

Our learner led bake sale.

Level 1 English learners, in particular how they engaged with each other’s work on music reviews on an extremely intimate level, open to each other’s comments and exchanging views.

The task-based targets were in many ways more challenging. Learners found it particularly difficult to move away from a solely linguistic focus such as “I need to improve my phrasal verbs.” However, when learners did contextualise, their tasks became enriched and purposeful such as researching and presenting ‘how to improve my English in four months’, ‘what I need to do in order to apply for an NHS apprenticeship’, and ‘how to become a stand-up comedian’. One learner translated her own poems into English, another sang a song in English, another joined a cycling club and another researched how to become a teaching assistant and found such a job. Learners needed to determine the steps they had to take to complete their tasks. (See Appendices 3.2, 3.3, 3.4)

Organisational Development

This project enabled us to explore in concrete detail what task-based learning entails. We have been working on this approach for three years. The pedagogical intent has become clear. However, this research was very much tutor-led, thrived on exchange and has effected a practical comprehension of how TBL is not the ‘production’ part of presentation-practice-production (PPP). The discourse of TBL is now much better instituted, allowing debate and discussion cross-centre.

Tutors have led a dissemination session and are well-placed to work with other tutors on how to develop this approach across the provision. A key aspect of the project has been how tutors in the hearing and Deaf area have collaborated and how enthusiastically most Deaf learners responded to tasks. Although TBL has been practised in the hearing classes for a while, this practice was far less prevalent in Deaf English and maths. Now, this provision can be seen to be leading the way.

Finally, an outcome of the project is likely to be a different way in which we carry out Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) at least on some courses, to enable a more organic approach. Tutors developed plans to reflect more readily a TBL pedagogy and we will move forward with these in 2022-23.

Learning from this project

The most important learning from the project is that task-based learning and target-setting are effective in enabling learners to develop the key life and work skills they need to participate and make progress in a democratic society. We learned that, when the task is right, learners will create and run with the activity, will learn, and will support each other through the task accomplishment. In so doing, learners will achieve well beyond the constraints of more traditional classroom ambitions and that it is not necessary to separate off linguistic elements from the context which demands their use.

In addition, we learned that a move away from the fixation on the ‘SMARTness’ of targets and a focus on the purposes of learners’ learning – the types of activities they need to do not as vehicles for language improvement but as ends in themselves – produced work that was interesting and engaging for learners and gave them a sense of achievement.

Most significantly, we discovered what the idea of TBL is and how it can work.

However, we also learned that we have a lot more to discover, investigate and discuss. Questions which have emerged from the research include:

  • How exactly are TBL classes set up so that the task is not solely a practice of, or a vehicle for, a language form but something that occasions discovery and learning? What is the balance between meaning and form? What is the role of staging?
  • Why might the same task produce a lot of work and creativity with one group but not with another?
  • How to set up classes so that learners can decide more readily on their task-based targets. What pre-task activities facilitate this and obviate the teacher’s telling or explaining what these types of tasks are?
  • How can learners more readily articulate their aims in terms of social practices rather than linguistic forms and how can they better join means to ends? (See Appendix 3.5)
  • How well does TBL work for pre-entry groups? What form if any should it take? (See Appendix 3.6).

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    The project reminded us to dig deeper to find out more about learners’ lives and what they want to achieve outside of the classroom. Rather than focusing on isolated language points, this project emphasised the need to think about the bigger picture and the purpose of the class. We discovered the value of frequent reference to the tasks and constant encouragement. Providing space for learners to discuss their aims openly raised their aspirations as they took encouragement from each other. Fostering peer support and developing common work-skills through TBL enabled different learners to respond in their own ways and participate accordingly.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    One of the key aspects of the project was how tutors shared their understandings, discoveries, surprises, plus points and negative points – such as how learners responded to being asked to do something outside the classroom, how learners could be motivated to complete their task-targets, how the original ILP did or did not lend itself to the task-based targets, etc. Just as learners took on responsibilities related to the tasks, so did tutors who went beyond what they might normally have done regarding evaluation of learning and recording learners’ progress.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    The project responded to this standard in two ways. Firstly, through learners’ setting of task-oriented goals and the steps needed to achieve them, they invested in their own learning to achieve meaningful goals. With certain learners there was far more investment in their targets than previously. However, the project also showed that responsibility for learning emerges best when the responsibility is shouldered and directed by the task itself so learners are not placed in a position of being (solely) responsible for their learning but are responding to the needs of the task. The key challenge is to establish a task which suitably involves the learner.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Resources and Reflections


Edwards, C., and J. Willis. (eds.)., (2005). Teachers Exploring Tasks in ELT. Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan.
Prabhu N.S., (1987). Second Language Pedagogy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nunan D., (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis D., (2003). Rules, Patterns and Words: Grammar and Lexis in English Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Willis D., and Willis, J., (1987). ‘Varied activities for variable language.’ ELT Journal 41/1: 12-18.
Willis D. and Willis, J., (2007). Doing Task-based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Willis J., (1996). A Framework for Task-based Learning. Harlow: Longman Pearson Education.

13c. ELATT

Supporting learner ownership and the formulation of authentic goals


With the launch of online Individual Learning Plans (ILPs) at ELATT, our aim was to ensure that learners and tutors had the tools and support they needed to formulate goals and to see value in the process.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Goal setting for adult learners is accepted as key to achievement and progress and is prominent in most Further Education (FE) funder requirements. However, it is also recognised that the specific requirements of the latter can lead to tutor-driven and formulaic goal setting across adult learning, with a loss of authenticity (Hinds, 2021).

Although this had not been an issue at ELATT, the rapid pivot to remote teaching two years ago complicated a paper-based process while tutors were having to adapt to new class dynamics online, all of which impacted upon the goal setting process.

However, with the introduction of an online platform for ILPs we identified the opportunity to go ‘back to basics’ on goal setting. We planned to draw on the experience of tutors who are strong in this area and support those who are less confident.

We aimed to get learners to see the value in goal setting by relating this to their lives and aspirations. This would form the basis for further skills development in supporting learners to break down larger goals into SMART steps.

Other Contextual Information

ELATT is an educational charity based in Hackney. Our model is to support learners in identifying and achieving their life goals by developing skills, knowledge and confidence. Our project reflects the ethos of ELATT and focuses on supporting learners to identify their life goals and formulate the smaller steps needed to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to succeed.
We deliver programmes for adults and also have a small alternative provision sixth form, which has mainly SEND learners. Adult classes are mainly still online, while the sixth form is on-site.

Three sections took part in this action research:

  • an ESOL L1 class
  • a sixth form L1-L2 English/PSD class
  • an L2 Support Work in Schools course for ESOL learners.


A small project team with representatives from ESOL, sixth form English and Vocational was formed; two of the group had supported other tutors previously in goal setting.

See below for an overview of project activities:

  • 1

    Initial Stage

    • Survey of sector specific research into the use of ILPs and goal setting.
    • Project Team discussed their perceptions of learners’ attitudes to and issues with the existing ILP process to refine aims of project.
    • Whole staff CPD – a ‘back to basics’ on goal setting.
  • 2.

    Trialling different approaches

    • Development and trials of session plans using tools and texts discussed / introduced initial stage.
    • Workshop to discuss findings.
    • Development of further strategies based on this feedback with new team members liasing with the original team.


  • 3.

    Evaluating the impact of each approach

    • Assessment of the impact on learners e.g. understanding of the concepts, development of goal formulation skills.
    • Tutor reflections (Appendix 3)
    • Interviews with learners (Appendix 3)
    • Case studies (Appendix 2)
  • 4.

    Sharing the impact of each approach

    • Whole staff CPD session in which the different approaches are shared so next trial stage with all learners could be rolled out.
    • External CPD session to inspire next stage.
    • Training in the use of online ILP.


The three approaches trialled

The first approach used a motivational reading text entitled ‘Establishing Dreams’ by Jim Rohn. This was recommended by an ex-ELATT tutor who is also a life coach and who had used the text effectively with a range of people. The text was used as a reading/discussion activity, sometimes with supporting resources, before leading the learners into personal reflection and goal sharing.

The second approach adopted a journey metaphor based on an idea from Jane Ward’s work (2002). Learners related the metaphor to their own learning journeys and, through discussion, identified and shared goals and obstacles.

The third approach utilised peer and external support to provide the capacity for one-to-one discussion aimed at raising aspirations and stimulating discussion prior to goal formulation. This activity, which took place online, was enabled by volunteers from one of ELATT’s corporate partners. Learners prepared questions for the volunteers to learn about their goals and the volunteers were briefed about the aims of the session. Pairs were then directed into breakout rooms and given drop-in support by ELATT staff.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Our learners often failed to see the relevance of goal setting within the classroom setting or as connected to their life goals. The importance of ensuring that their goals reflected their interests and were sufficiently challenging to motivate their continued perseverance (Shechtman et al., 2013) couldn’t be underestimated. Consequently, we felt that we needed to explore the purpose of goal setting in different ways before moving on to activities which focused on breaking bigger goals down into smaller steps

Approaches 1 and 2

The trainer for our initial CPD provided the motivational text which encouraged the learners to identify dreams and aspirations. This text was then used by the project team both in its full form, in a shortened version and an adapted version for lower-level learners (Appendix 3a). One team member additionally created classroom resources to support understanding and vocabulary acquisition alongside goal setting.

The reading was well received by both adult and sixth form learners, with tutors reporting that it was an effective lead-in for prompting discussion, reflection and the formulation of life goals. While adult ESOL classes are approximately 80% female, the reverse is true for the sixth form, so this broad appeal was of interest. One sixth form learner spontaneously commented, “It gives me hope”.

Although, two of the three tutors who used this text reported not responding on a personal level to the text, both said that they would use it again due to its flexibility and universal appeal. Learner engagement with the text was positive. Frequently, our learners find it difficult to recall materials used in class, so we were pleased that when asked 3-4 months later about activities which helped with goal setting, most of the learners were able to remember the motivational text without prompting:

We did discussions and we also did reading [what’s happening] on a newspaper article about dreams.

– Sixth former

We read about our dream/ambition – what do I want to do in the future? We did our target after that.

– Adult ESOL

A delay in the introduction of the new online platform (ProPortal) meant that learners were not able to manage their ILPs independently during the research period. Unfortunately, this limited the ability to assess the effectiveness of the approach with ‘before’ and ‘after’ comparisons which are only now taking place.

The other tool trialled was a learning journey metaphor outlined in Appendix 3a. When comparing staff reflections on which of the approaches were more successful, we found that approach 1, the Jim Rohn text, was favoured as tutors felt that discussions remained focused and led naturally to the learner goal formulation (Appendix 3c).

Learners who took part in approach 1 developed quite strong and specific goals and generally were able to recall life and in-class goals with linkage:

Come in on time and work towards getting GCSEs. Improve punctuating and get credentials for future prospect.

– Sixth former

“My goal is to complete L2 [Level 2] but I also want IT course so I am doing that now. I will do L2 [ESOL] in September. My goal is a part-time job. I am full-time mum. I am looking at supermarket, my local area retail shop. … When I started I can’t speak one sentence, Now I can speak confidently and understand” (Adult ESOL).

One participating class was a group of seven ESOL learners on a 16-week basic teaching assistant course. Within a month of finishing the course, three were in work and another two were close to starting, which is a faster and higher percentage than usual. This cannot be definitively attributed to the goals focus but the same approach is being used for the latest class to see if the results can be replicated.

Approach 3 – 1:1 support

The learners in the group assigned to work one-to-one with volunteer mentors (see Appendix 3b) also responded positively.

It helped to hear the process of establishing and achieving goals verbally.

– Sixth former

I was able to show not only to others but to myself that I am capable.

– Sixth former

The tutor reported that the work undertaken in the workshop not only supported learner goal writing but also provided useful material for learners working on personal statements for further study or work placement applications.

Trials with all three approaches allowed plenty of time for class discussion with structured peer support, either in breakout sessions or as feedback when goals were shared.

Organisational Development

Discussions with learners from classes that did not take part in the project provided a useful comparison in how goal aware and motivated the learners were.
These learners were asked about their goals and experience of goal setting. They were found to have clear rationales for joining courses at ELATT and often referenced discussing these with their tutors:

Each of us has a time slot and we do one to one for 15 minutes. We set goals and aims. What we want to do in future. My goal is to work with children and find a job in school. I would like to be a maths teacher.

However, few learners referred spontaneously to individual in-course goals and those that did generally named a specific skill or course component. In addition, while learners regularly referred to supportive online relationships, “it is such a good community, you can ask the others “, these relationships were not referred to in the context of goals, targets or aspirations.

The follow-up CPD session at the beginning of semester two emphasised that sessions on goal setting are a good use of time and can be incorporated into sessions, particularly English and ESOL. In addition to the motivational text and supporting resources, a template that serves as a basis for class discussion and information sheet for learners was provided (Appendix 3d).

One further outcome was that the session plan for pairing sixth formers with corporate volunteer mentors was refocused and the new format received excellent feedback from both mentors and mentees. The aim was for learners to develop goals and work these into personal statements but, as one tutor commented:

Most learners are SEND and/or have anxiety issues, so this made it hard for them to open up. So, in preparation for the session, the learners prepared a list of questions to find out about their volunteer/mentor’s goals, aspirations and journeys.

Previously mentors and learners had often struggled to maintain dialogue but all reported productive and enjoyable sessions.

Learning from this project

The project has allowed us to take our time and really reflect upon the purpose of goal setting and how it should fit in with our ethos as an organisation. Rather than view the process as some necessary administrative task required to satisfy funding requirements, staff have relished the opportunity to revisit and reflect on how goal setting fits into their teaching as can be seen from the comment below.

This action research has changed the way I teach. I think more about how the learners learn, how to make them independent. It is something I have changed. I do a lot more on study skills and critical thinking. Goal setting – and everything else – now takes more time but it pays off. The learners know that achieving their goals is ultimately up to them and I cannot do it for them.
– LS Tutor

Feedback from both staff and learners has confirmed the need to adopt a more reflective approach in which learners are encouraged to focus on their long-term goals and aspirations as swiftly as possible. One of our sixth form tutors observed that their learners were:

.. familiar with the concept of goal setting through formal reviews, course targets and ad hoc goals, often around attendance and behaviour. However, it often (took) at least a year at ELATT for (them)to gain the confidence to express aspirations and plan steps to achieve (them).

We found that the same was true of many of our adult learners, who arrived at ELATT with firm goals, combined with an understanding of the goal setting process. This applies particularly to those who have mental health issues/other disabilities or those who have little experience outside the home. This is the learner quoted previously who is now looking for part-time retail work and who was described by her initial contact as ‘shy and isolated’:

I want to more better my speaking and listening. It is all thanks to ELATT.

As a result, we acknowledged that goal setting support has to be iterative – and success needs to be tracked over the long term. This finding was supported by Dr Marcin Lewandowski, whose PhD subject was learner goals, and who attended a February tutor meeting to share his experience.

Learners share their smart targets.

Goal setting in general, and specific, measured, achievable, realistic and timed targets (SMART) in particular, can be powerful tools which equip learners to progress on their courses and towards life goals. But forming SMART targets is not instinctive and may require considerable scaffolding. The example above is by a student who has been with ELATT for more than a year and is in his third iteration of SMART goal setting. Effective scaffolding in this area would be a further research activity.

An additional finding was that, prior to the research, we had assumed that tools and resources for adults and sixth formers would be different due to life experience, language and SEND factors but we found that the same resources and tools were largely effective. This very welcome finding has resulted in the different departments being motivated to collaborate and share resources.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

The professional standards strongly linked to this project are:

  •  Professional Standard 13: ‘motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression’
  • Professional Standard 17: ‘enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment’.

We wanted learners to take control of, and responsibility for, their own learning. The project was designed to take into account the fact that this would come more easily to some learners than others, depending on their previous educational experience, expectations of education, levels of confidence, as well as life experience. We also recognised that while our tutors are universally committed to their learners, there was variation in confidence and understanding of best practice in goal setting.

This project gave us the opportunity to investigate the current experience of learners across the organisation, trial tools and approaches, as well as develop expertise and understanding within the project team. Most importantly, the resources and activities were devised to scaffold both learners and tutors in goal setting and have the flexibility to be accessible and engaging across the range of experience.

There were also positive benefits in bringing together tutors from the Life Skills, English and Vocational teams (although the Vocational team participation in the project fell outside the scope of the ETF OTLA). This took the form of joint CPD, a workshop and regular team meetings to share activities, progress and findings, as well as to discuss the principles underpinning our research.

A further professional standard was also relevant to our research project:

  • Professional Standard 15: ‘promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use’.

This related to the introduction of Pro in 2021-22 across the organisation. A delay in the introduction of the learner platform meant that tutors had to input goals on the learners’ behalf during semester 1 through screen sharing (online classes) or side-by-side (in person).
In semester 2, CPD combined technical support in a ‘walk through’ from the learner perspective and a discussion with resources (Appendix 3d) which could be adapted and shared with learners to support independent goal setting.

Learners then completed the ‘About Me’ section with information about their life aims and collaborated with the group to develop relevant and targeted in-class goals. Learners still had the opportunity to adapt or form their own in-class goals in discussion with the tutor but in practice, the class discussion resulted in goals which were chosen by most learners. Because of the delay in implementation, we have not yet had a chance to assess progress fully, but a learner sample can be found in Appendix 3d.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Additional Resources and Reflections


Hynes, C. (2021) Choose your own adventure: The Action Research panto! Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

NRDC (2004). ‘Reflect 1: Individual Learning Plans’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Rohn, J. (no date). ‘Establishing Dreams and Goals by Jim Rohn’ [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Shechtman, N., DeBarger, A. H., Dornsife, C., Rosier, S., & Yarnall, L. (2013). Promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance: Critical factors for success in the 21st century. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Technology.

Ward, J. (2002). ‘Learning Journeys: Learners’ Voices: Learners’ Views on Progress and Achievement in Literacy and Numeracy’. LSDA.

  • 2016

    Milestone 1

  • 2017

    Milestone 2


  • 2018

    Milestone 3

13b. Boston College

Targeting support for ESOL learners on
vocational programmes

Boston College

This project was set up to evaluate the impact of a small-scale intervention designed to support non-native English speakers who were struggling to take full advantage of their vocational courses. We set up extra classes to focus on helping learners to develop the reading and writing skills needed to tackle their English, maths and vocational courses with more confidence. We intend to disseminate the most effective strategies to all curriculum areas to improve cross-college teaching of non-native English speakers.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Boston has a large Eastern European population which is reflected in the number of non-native speakers attending Boston College. Almost 25% of our 16–19-year-olds are ESOL learners which contributes to the richness and diversity of college life, but also provides us with significant challenges when trying to ensure that all learners are able to access our full provision and enjoy the same quality of experience as other learners.

The transition from ESOL classes to Level 2 and 3 vocational courses has proved particularly difficult with learners struggling to access the programmes due to the level of their English and academic skills. Even learners progressing from ESOL to Level 1 Business, for example, have difficulty largely due to the fact that they have not mastered the English reading and writing skills needed for their vocational course. Feedback from learners as well as Functional Skills English results for non-native 16–19-year-olds confirms this. Despite extensive pastoral support, attendance and retention on vocational courses like the Business Level 1 is also impacted, with success and progression onto further study significantly affected.

We considered a range of different strategies to support the development of our learners’ English and academic skills and help them integrate into their vocational classes more readily. Having completed an assessment of learners’ language needs in the Level 1 IT/Business group, to identify the specific barriers learners often face, we decided to focus on setting up extra individual and small group support classes, the impact of which might be evaluated within the time frame of the project. We felt that the extra classes would enable us to utilise a range of resources to target individual support. Originally, our intention was also to work closely with vocational staff on the development of vocabulary resources to prepare learners to take full advantage of vocational programmes. After developing the use of MS Teams Reader and vocabulary resources in the spring term, these have now been disseminated to some vocational areas e.g., Foundation, Pathways to Progress to support improvement across college teaching non-native and low-level English learners.

Other Contextual Information

The college’s action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place mainly in the English department of our FE college. We worked with two different English groups of Level 1 and Level 2 learners who were also enrolled on either IT (Digital Skills) or Business vocational areas, which are very popular with our non-native English speakers.


The flow chart below outlines how we approached the project and indicates how we intend to continue with our work once the project has finished.

  • Initial fact finding
  • Intervention classes
  • Evaluating the impact
  • Next steps
  • Sharing what we found out
  • •Met with key staff to identify the issues that second language learners were having in
    their classes and suggest possible ways to address them (Appendix 3d).
    •Met with second language learners, Computing Level 1, to discuss the challenges many
    of them face in this class and what support they think they would benefit from.
    •Identified specific support needs using the Starting Point Assessment on Century Tech
    and observation of learners in both FS English and maths classes (Appendix 2).
  • •Based on our findings we timetabled in 2 extra hours of voluntary support classes
    tagged on to their study programmes.
    •A range of different resources and strategies were selected to support their language
    •Staff development in use of MS Teams reading tool / Immersive Reader put in place.
  • •A contemporaneous log of activities was used to record the aims of the activities and
    encourage reflection on how useful they had been (Appendix 3a).
    •Project meetings reviewed the log and session content adjusted as the sessions
    •Learner feedback was collected using an interview and questionnaire (Appendix 3b).
    •The progress of 2 learners in their English, maths and vocational classes resulted in 2
    case studies (Appendix 2).
    •Observations of the sessions were carried out by QA staff (Appendix 3c).
  • •Vocational vocabulary development in class and supplementary aids e.g. glossary,
    language posters etc.
    •ESOL champions.
    •Develop assessment/interview techniques for vocational staff at IAG stage to identify if
    learners have the current language skills to succeed within a 34 week the time frame,
    alternative routes and support options included.
  • •Team will create CPD sessions for staff focussing on strategies that worked well and
    encouraging ways to embed their use in different vocational classes.
    •Glossaries will be shared with each vocational area.
    •Learners will create posters/ leaflets for new students e.g. Quotes , advice etc.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The intervention classes were set up in November and are scheduled to continue until the end of May. We chose to focus on the impact that these classes have had on the development of two learners, Learner M and Learner N. The classes were popular with learners; their attendance is sitting at 90%, which is much better than the college average for this time of year.

Although the initial sessions were planned using in-class assessment and observations, the content remained fluid allowing teachers to support the individual development of the two learners, often reacting to information identified in their other lessons (Appendix 3a). The individual support was also commented on in observation feedback (Appendix 3c):

Bespoke delivery clearly supporting the individual learning needs of the two learners

English, maths and IT teachers and support staff worked together and have been keen to comment on the progress that learners have made since attending the extra sessions (Appendix 2).

Learner N, for example, had difficulties understanding maths examination questions as well as interacting with the rest of the class. Concerted work on developing his vocabulary in the intervention sessions, extensive Learning Support Assistant (LSA) help, as well as the learner’s engagement in online resources such as Learning by Questions has proved useful, and resulted in a score of 60% at Entry 3 in his formal assessment in February. In his English classes, this same learner had problems with the reading paper, difficulties with writing conventions, capital letters and full stops, as well as letter formation. His English teacher (Appendix 2) believes that:

[the focused work] done around understanding a text, questions about a text and understanding question words had enabled him to make substantial progress in his understanding

The table below documents the reading progress that learner N made:

  • First reading assessment
  • 11/24 (45%)
  • Second reading assessment
  • 12/24 (50%)
  • December reading exam
  • 21/24 (87.5%)

Learner M has also made progress, with his initial diagnostic reading score moving from 75% in October to 86% in March 2022 at Entry 2 (Appendix 2). Both learners have also made a marked improvement in spelling, grammar and organisation of their writing.

There is LSA evidence to suggest that the learners’ participation in their vocational classes has also improved. Learner N, for example, found it challenging to interact with peers in team activities, and would not answer questions when asked, despite knowing the answers. The help he has received from his support worker, coupled with changes in the class set-up, as well as the confidence from extra sessions have had a significant impact upon his relationship with the class. His support worker has noted that that he has joined the Computing 1 group chat and is now prepared to communicate via Teams:

If his peers see or hear him struggling, they will message him asking if he needs help
– Learner N’s LSA

He goes on to say that Learner N now seems to be far more integrated into the class and:

[Learner N] will now fool around with his peers whilst waiting for lessons and at times had been seen teasing other peers with little pranks.’
– Learner N’s LSA

Please see Appendix 2, LSA comments for further examples.

Learners’ own perceptions of their progress, when questioned during a small group support session, seemed to echo the tutors’ observations, saying that they felt that the sessions had improved their confidence in all aspects of English. However, the learner feedback survey was not so generous in its findings. We believe the variance may be down to the fact that Learner N completed this at home without tutor support, so there was possibly a misunderstanding within the questions being asked. We will revisit this with the learner at the end of the programme. Feedback from tutors, as well as assessments, continues to support our belief that there has been significant improvement in both learners’ academic work and social interaction at college. N is now more confident in speaking in front of others, can order the alphabet and read in English more fluently as can be seen in the tracker records. M has also shown great improvement in his English ability, particularly in grammar and writing skills. These are all small interventions that could not be facilitated in a larger group in lesson and required the intensity of a small group of two learners.

Organisational Development

1. Improved communication between vocational, English and maths teams.

Professional standard 20 – Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others

The project has required us to work more collaboratively to identify the specific issues that individuals were struggling with and monitor their progress. Meeting across the three areas has often been logistically difficult but using the log to record what has been done in each session has helped and we anticipate that this will impact on organisational development and the way we work next year. We have identified the following developments so far.

2. Potential development of the internal quality process.

Professional standard 20 – Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others.

In order to identify the kinds of problems that second language learners were having in their classes we interviewed the learners and set up observations of the classes. The observations helped identify what needed to be worked on in their extra classes but also highlighted where different strategies might be used to support NNEs and lower-level learners. We are keen to consider how the observation process might be enhanced further to capture this detail and identify if college wide development is required.

3. Change of future starting point assessment and IAG to ensure that the specific language needs on vocational courses are considered.

Professional standard 1 – Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

Learning from this project

At the beginning of the project, we had planned to do significantly more. However, we quickly realised that many of our intentions were overzealous and more suitable over a longer period of time, so we changed our focus to align ourselves with the immediate needs of the learners within this project.

The implementation of intervention groups has had very positive results and we have also identified a number of factors which will influence how we continue to support our learners next year.

Triangulation of support has had significant benefits over a very short period of time.

Bringing all the staff involved in the progress of the learner together has allowed us to share ideas on different teaching strategies and their effectiveness as well as utilise the expertise of learning support staff. We will try to explore this ‘joined up’ approach further next year. We also need to increase awareness of the significant role LSAs take within the group, and how they can continue to carry on the work that has been developed in the small support groups. The importance of the additional learner support process in the sharing of planning across a learner’s study programme needs to be recognised.

Targeting areas which could have the most impact and that was within our power to supply was important.

We recognise that this is an expensive way of supporting individuals and that this may not have been possible without the funding from EHCP; however, some of the resources and strategies found to be effective can now be shared with both LSAs and class tutors. This targeted small class approach has also been found to be particularly effective when deploying teaching assistants in schools (EEF, 2021).

Strategies which can be used across all classes offer a consistency of approach and may preclude the need to reinvent the wheel for each individual case.

We identified that in many ways we continue to work in silos rather than using a more ‘joined up’ approach. To support this, the development of Microsoft Teams and how it can be implemented to support small group/learner support is to be extensively researched over the coming months in preparation for the new academic year. This will allow us to update all lecturers/support staff on the learners’ study programme with up-to-date strategies as well as significant progress information.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    The project has encouraged us to step outside ‘normal’ modes of delivery and identify how we can best support new learners to the college, both non-native English speakers (NNESs) and learners with a relatively low English assessment score. Being able to nurture learners in a small group has allowed us to target specific language difficulties which were hindering progress and has also impacted upon their confidence and mindset to improve. As a result, we are also looking at how to develop a more robust Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) process which will inform how we support these learners next year.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    As part of the project there has been considerable time dedicated to identifying resources and teaching strategies and reflecting on how learners have responded to these. Although not every session was successful, we have identified that, to date, the two learners within this project have made better than anticipated progress. Another point to note is that the learners that took part in this research are on Education Health Care Plans (EHCPs) and in studying the report and identifying their individual needs we feel that at the time of the review we will have fully met, if not exceeded their needs.

  • 16. Address the mathematics and English needs of learners and work creatively to overcome individual barriers to learning.

    Throughout this process we have considered strategies that support learners’ English development and how best to support these, not only in English and maths, but equally in their main study programme. Although maths was not initially considered, it is clear to see through our research where significant improvements have been made in this area too (see diagnostic comparisons). This is particularly pleasing as it was not something that was expected and another reason why we intend to invest in this process with an increased number of learners next year. Moving forward we will be adopting more techniques to support a positive mindset with learners in both English and maths though small group interventions using techniques adopted in this research, such as the alphabet tasks and MS Teams reader.

  • 20. Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others.

    We have also begun to offer staff development sessions based on some of the new technology we have used as part of the project. The first was offered in January, and was well received by different curriculum areas, one of which has booked further training April so they can use MS Teams reader as part of their everyday delivery. During our CPD days in June 2022 we will disseminate our findings to curriculum staff and work together to develop bespoke embedded support materials for their areas, which will also include vocabulary books, walls, techniques to encourage verbal participation class.


Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3


EEF (2021) Teaching Assistant Interventions Moderate impact for moderate cost based on moderate evidence. Available at: (Accessed: 20 March 2022).

12c. Westminster AES

Bridging the Gap

Westminster Adult Education Service

This project actively engaged learners with diverse needs and disabilities to access components of the Essential Digital Skills (EDS) qualification by simplifying them into bite-sized tasks. Key to the success was the collaboration of EDS tutors with Diversity and Inclusion tutors who together reviewed and redesigned existing materials to better suit the needs of these learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


We have been mindful that the EDS qualification is complicated and challenging for many learners with diverse needs and disabilities: components include navigation elements such as menus, hyperlinks and browser navigation control. There is a vast gap between Entry Level qualifications and the EDS qualification so our project aimed to bridge the gap so that learners with diverse needs and disabilities would be able to progress without feeling disadvantaged or overwhelmed.

Furthermore, we identified a need to support their daily digital literacy, thereby preventing them from being excluded from everyday tasks, e.g. universal credit, accessing medical appointments, etc.

One of the significant tasks was to adapt existing resources to make them more understandable by reducing words and adding images, to ensure that they were inclusive and accessible.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 programme. It took place in the Diversity and Inclusion department of Westminster Adult Education Service. We started working with the Pre-Entry Level beginners ICT class over a 12-week period. For some learners, they had never used a computer before and were very unfamiliar with typing, using a mouse and any functions that many of us take for granted. 90% of learners did not own a mobile phone. In term 2 we were able to extend the reach of the project to include an additional group of learners, whose digital operating level was more advanced at Entry Levels 1 and 2.


Our team took the following approach:

We started by trying to encourage learners and carers to engage with computers by sharing a simple PowerPoint and an A4 set of visual images providing step-by-step instructions on how to log on at home. Due to limited uptake of this, it was difficult to provide homework tasks. Also, some learners did not have computers at home.

In the classroom, with one-to-one support, all learners were able to log on to a computer. We discovered that without being able to practise between sessions, much of the learning was forgotten. A further consideration was that without a teacher or support assistant at home, learners did not have the confidence or ability to work outside the classroom. We therefore took the decision to extend the duration of the course for this group of learners so that they could practise and repeat small tasks to aid their long-term memory development.

In term 2 we worked with Entry Level learners, which led to more success. These learners were able to log on and follow instructions, though still needed support before moving on to EDS content. We also found that these learners were more actively involved because they were more aware that they are taking part in the research project.

The research project team devised simple tasks and resources in collaboration with the EDS tutors. Each step was broken down for learners and practised, to ensure sequential learning and to aid long term memory, before moving on.

As learner confidence grew, we were able to increase levels of activity to two tasks over a five-week period. One learner in the first group has now become a digital champion and is supporting other learners. As the project progressed, we recorded our progress on a Padlet, which is shown in the screenshot to the right.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Having realised that we needed to try our approach with a different group of learners, we found that the resources were extremely effective. Our ‘what’s in a name?’ resource (Appendix 4.2) enabled learners to show how they could change the font, embolden text, underline, change colour and this led to a visible sense of achievement with the learners. The second resource was a research task that involved learners using the cut and paste function to add images and text to a PowerPoint template. This task invited learners to choose images themselves and also encouraged them to find out more about iconic people, such as Nelson Mandela. The third resource was an internet quiz comprising 15 questions in which learners were required to research and/or upload images. Their engagement, motivation and increased confidence were evident as they competed against each other to complete the task within an hour. It was clear to see that they had all progressed during the project and it was so encouraging to see how much they enjoyed taking part.

With each of the tasks described above, breaking them down into step by step verbal instructions was important. Not only did this lead to success with the tasks themselves, it also increased confidence and learners were able to take pride in what they had achieved. We learnt that the best results came from modelling the task rather than giving written instructions.

Below we share some feedback from learners in relation to task 1:

I was able to do the task easily as it was explained to me.

– Learner, LA

I found the task easy.

– Learner, SH

Because I was in the ICT Beginners class I was able to do the task and I was able to work by myself.

– Learner, HS

Feedback from task 3 was very positive and they collectively asked if they could do something similar again. (Learners in Foundation Skills L2).

Organisational Development

We collaborated with the digital skills department to better understand the EDS curriculum and the current challenges faced in its delivery to mainstream learners. We identified ESOL specific challenges and used this knowledge to inform how best we would break down the EDS tasks to meet the needs of our learners with diverse needs and disabilities. The experiences broadened our horizon on the complexity of the EDS qualifications and the difficulties our learners face in terms of employment as well as daily life if they remain disengaged with the digital world. In addition to this, digital poverty was an underlying issue that is present for learners with no requirement for additional support. This in turn emphasised the ever-increasing gap between those who are fully conversant with the digital world and those who are not.

Learning from this project

What worked well:

  • Two digital champions have been appointed within the Diversity and Inclusion team (both learners). The digital champions are going into lower level groups to support learners there. This is a very positive outcome of our research project and will be beneficial for all involved, in terms of employability, learner self-esteem etc. This initiative will continue after the project and will potentially lead to a more structured peer to peer support system within the organisation.• Liaising with the digital team was key to the success of this initiative and closer collaboration will continue after the research project ends.
  • We learnt that modelling and visual resources are more effective for learning than written instructions.
  • We learnt that breaking down tasks into small steps led to success.
  • The third task demonstrated the distance the learners had travelled during the project.

Even better if:

  • We are hopeful that the gap will be bridged so much that learners will be able to progress into a formal EDS class. Some learners are likely to do this in September, but we hope that our project will make it easier for others.
  • The first group would benefit from an extension to their course, so they can complete some of the resources and can visibly identify their progress on a termly basis.
  • We were inspired by a project being carried out by the project team at Haringey Adult Learning Service which involved peer to peer mentoring. This could be an outcome for us and perhaps we could collaborate with this team to make this happen.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together to challenge our assumptions that learners with diverse needs cannot attain EDS qualifications. By engaging in research activities with the learner, we found that they are able to perform tasks and produce assignments, as it is tailor made for them. We started from a position of learners being novices at using the computer and moved onto learners who can complete basic digital skill tasks.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Our research project demonstrates this standard through the following quotes from learners:

    “I have enjoyed being the class, I learnt in login and wait, I did a PowerPoint presentation, I have done some quizzes, I did some typing, and I sent my work to you via Teams and id CHECKS and telling time. Also researched Black history, we did famous Sportsmen”.

    “We learnt about emojis and put things in the chat”.

  • 5. Value and promote social and cultural diversity, equality of opportunity and inclusion.

    We were able to provide a learning experience where all of our learners thrived together in a mixed ability setting. Their uniqueness provided a richness and depth to learning outcomes.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    HS has been asked if he wants to move into another a more advanced group where he will be studying Digital Skills Entry Level 1; he has agreed.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Padlet

Appendix 4: Project Activities and Resources


Digital Poverty Alliance. (2022). ‘Together we can end digital poverty once and for all’. [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Holmes, H and Burgess, G. (2021) ‘Pay the wi-fi or feed the children. Coronavirus has intensified the digital divide’. University of Cambridge [online]. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

12b. Haringey ALS

Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project

Haringey Adult Learning Service

This project investigated how a range of foundational skills can be supported and embedded in the development of essential digital skills through an informal learning approach.

The aim of the project was to develop peer-to-peer support relationships via collaboration, with low-level learners receiving digital support from higher-level learners. By triangulating the arrangement with tutors, we aimed to use peer-to-peer support to improve learners’ confidence and ability in class and to help them participate in our ever-increasing digital society.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Haringey Adult Learning Service (HALS) identified a support need for ESOL and literacy learners who have low-level digital skills. This project explored how peer-to-peer support could benefit both high-level (mentors) and low-level learners (mentees) through a peer-to-peer fusion model, with learners developing foundational and digital skills.

HALS embed the 5 Cs model of fusion skills into the curriculum, and these skills underpinned the project. For more information about the 5 Cs, please visit our 5Cs model Padlet.

These fusion skills form part of 56 foundational skills identified by McKinsey & Company, the Distinct Elements of Talent (DELTAs), that will help citizens thrive in the future of work (June 2021). McKinsey & Company (2021).

There were two strands to the project:

  1. Mentors to improve their fusion skills
  2. Mentees to improve confidence with Essential Digital Skills.

The intention of this project is to act as the foundation for the creation of a peer-to-peer support culture across HALS, with a dual focus on both mentors and mentees.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The peer mentors were Level 1 and 2 learners (Digital TLC volunteers) who had good digital skills and the mentees were lower-level English learners.

We began with 12 volunteer peer mentors who we matched with one learner (mentee) each. The context is adult learning and the mentoring sessions that were carried out in the learning lounge area were curated and monitored by staff.


Stage 1:
Facilitate Digital TLC Workshop to design the marketing and promotional activities in order to set up the Open Learning Lounge. The Tender Love and Care (TLC) group consists of learners and volunteers who want to make a difference and promote a more inclusive and a better place to thrive at HALS. The group has different subgroups, and the Digital TLC subgroup that took part in this project is made up from Level 1 and Level 2 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) learners with improved digital skills.

Stage 2:
Train up a group of HALS learner volunteers to support lower-level learners in developing digital skills and crucial transferable skills based on using our own 5 C’s Model. Tutors refer nominated learners from their classes to the group. Learners are paired up with Digital TLC volunteers for support.

Stage 3:
Hold tutorials with the participating learners to track the development of their foundational and Essential Digital Skills (EDS) and encourage this learning to be disseminated in the classroom.

Co-design tasks to enable the TLC to run drop-in sessions collaboratively, share skills and knowledge amongst themselves and provide support to lower-level learners with their EDS and foundational skills.

Stage 4:
Run presentation of outcomes across the service in dissemination events including class visits, team huddles and lunchtime talks by both learner groups and practitioners.

Stage 5:
Encourage the creation of video diaries by the participants.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment


Mentors involved in the project were motivated to take part to improve employability skills such as communication, problem-solving, and creative thinking.

By participating in this project of peer supporters, I hope to improve my ability to encourage other peers to work together in a positive way. I would like to be able to generate ideas on how to better improve the skills of learners I support by knowledge sharing. I hope to be able to communicate more effectively to gain skills to support others with digital skills.
– HB, mentor

I am taking many courses to improve myself, also to have better job opportunities. The reason why I wanted to join TLC peer-to-peer fusion was, first of all, to test my teaching skills and have an opportunity to improve my communication, observation and creativity skills, which will be required during this process. I am sure that the outcome from this will be a win-win situation, as I believe that you learn while you teach.
– GD, mentor

The impact of providing support to peers was beneficial to mentors, as the experience of adapting to meet the support needs of their mentees provided skill-development opportunities outside of those initially identified (such as listening in addition to communication). The experience of being able to support others through sharing knowledge and skills supported mentors to develop skills with building relationships and teamworking.

I am very happy from this experience because it helped me to develop my listening, also my communicative skills. The person, E, that I had to help, he trust (sic) me his email account and together we achieve to recover his password. The experience was very nice and helpful for developing new skills.
– OL, mentor

I am delighted to be part of this great project. My skills improved in teamworking, collaboration, communication skills throughout while communicating with my mentors, colleagues and mentees.
– JB, mentor


Mentees gained essential digital skills that will allow them to access resources and participate in their courses on digital platforms. Some mentees benefited from learning targeting individualised skills to deal with a particular problem, like recovering and changing a password for an email account.
Skills acquired during the project included:

  •  logging on and off MS Teams
  •  downloading and uploading files
  •  opening and viewing files
  •  cut and paste
  •  inserting a digital signature
  •  recovering and changing the password for an email account.

Mentees benefited from receiving support to learn digital skills, and also had the opportunity to develop communication skills, which is of additional benefit to ESOL and literacy learners. Feedback from mentees included:

Checklists were also created to help track each mentee’s progress.

At a peer-to-peer celebration event, one of the mentees had the opportunity to hear their mentor speak about the project and their own experiences. The mentee and mentor discussed their experiences together at the event, with the mentor sharing that she had been a total beginner when she started, which the mentee commented was a huge inspiration to her. They talked together about how they had both benefited from the experience and learned from each other, and how their digital skills and wider skills improved throughout the project.


Feedback from tutors on the support learners brought back to the classroom is noted below.

E needed support with changing the password on his email account as the account had been set up by someone else and he was unhappy that they had access to it. The peer-to-peer support provided an opportunity for him to work with a mentor to identify the steps to change his password. The impact this had in the classroom was E was able to feel confident accessing his emails to receive links to activities he was required to complete as part of the course. It had a positive impact on his confidence and feeling safe in the knowledge his information was secure.

– Caitríona, ICT Beginners Tutor

RC was able to enrol via ‘web enrol’ for the first time independently after getting peer-to-peer support. Previously he had to complete a paper enrolment form. The impact to RC was that he was able to have more agency over his learning and also to give him greater confidence when he is choosing further learning, as he knows he will be able to enrol online independently.

– Tutor

Some valuable feedback was also provided by Pre/Entry English tutor, S:

These learners are extremely low level and despite my 15 years of teaching experience I often find it really difficult to get them to understand concepts. Concepts and tasks have to repeated again and again

Our initial approach was to teach the mentees the skills that they wanted to learn. Tutor S requested that specific aspects of learning could be individualised by the tutor to meet the learning needs of a specific group. This approach was adapted. S indicated to the mentors the specific skills the learners from her low-level English group needed to improve on. Mentees received support on those specific tasks. A checklist of mentees learning illustrated in Figure 2 was produced for each learner and returned to the tutor. This method was then adopted across all of the support sessions.

Tutor S feedback following the session:
In terms of what was really useful: discrete activities supporting learners to get logged on to Teams, access classroom and upload files.


The over 50s group participated in a peer support session. Quotes from the group representative included:

“Several of these people have really next to no digital skills.”

“Glad there was such a good turnout.”

“I am really looking forward to seeing this programme and relationship progress!”

Mentee Support Log

The Mentee Support Log, completed by mentors, also documented the skills required, shared and the impact for the ment


The screenshot below shares some of the data captured during the project via the Mentee Support Log. The first column includes skills required by the mentee, the second column skills shared by mentors with the mentee and the third column records the impact on the mentee.

Videos and pictures illustrating our project in action

You can access a variety of videos from our mentors and mentees on our Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Padlet board, as well as in Appendix 2, learner case studies. Below are some images of our mentors and mentees in action.

Figure 5: Peer to Peer mentoring sessions

Peer Mentoring Showcases Mentor and Mentees Experiences

Further examples of the impact of our peer-peer fusion skills project on mentors and mentees are evidenced on our Padlet board, under the column mentee and mentor experience. An example is shared below:

Further Quotes from our Peer Mentors:

The quotes below further illustrate the impact of our action research project in relation to teaching, learning and assessment:

I supported my Peer Mentee to improve his learning by how to get onto Microsoft Teams and navigate around the screen, to get to his class. Then he could access the work his teacher put on his Channel.

– J, Peer mentor

The meeting with Peers was successful. Improved IT skills for Mentee.

– P, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with my mentee was very positive, he was very eager to learn and always contacts me for help.

– F, Peer mentor

The relationship with my mentee is providing me with key skills that I will need in Team Management.

– H, Peer mentor

My mentoring relationship with Mentee was very supported and we worked well in a team. The Mentee appreciated the help he learned.

– B, Peer mentor

Organisational Development

As an organisation, we are looking to continue to use this approach, nurturing a culture of peer-to-peer support, and supporting documenting the impact of this culture with video diaries capturing progress and joy in the project. Our plans going forward include:

  •  establishing a regular culture of peer-to-peer support within the classroom;
  •  continued use of the Open Learning Lounge as a space for developing the foundational and digital skills of HALS learners, and as a centre for resources which will continue to grow as the peer-to-peer support continues;
  •  continuous staff support to adopt the peer-to-peer support model.

Promotion events took place across the service where learners, staff and stakeholders were getting familiar with the project.

Figure 8: Peer to Peer Fusion Skills Project promotion events

The peer-to-peer support practice became popular with our learners, staff and stakeholders. Our lovely Digital TLC volunteers recently provided peer-to-peer support for the Over 50s community group. This group were very delighted about the digital support they received and wished to further participate in this project. Below are some photos of our eager peer mentors’ and mentees’ experiences with our stakeholders.

Figure 9: Peer to Peer and individual mentoring session for stakeholders

The peer-to-peer support model enabled our staff, learners and stakeholders to have access to an informal learner-centred method that improved digital access to all of the participants as well as TLA by enabling learners to bring the learning back into the classroom. This method also fostered improved employability skills across the spectrum. Peer mentors/mentees became better at collaboration, communication, planning and digital skills.

Learning from this project

Mentor feedback shows how much the mentors enjoyed taking part in the project and how it increased their employability skills. As part of the project, they received training in how to provide support, which provided them with a variety of tools to support their peers. They also increased their own digital skills by creating and uploading videos to document their experience, and creative thinking by reflecting on the impact of the training they provided.

Mentees improved their digital skills, being able to access digital resources that will support their learning, and they, in turn, can support other learners in the classrooms. Having access to targeted, one-to-one support, provided an opportunity to upskill in areas that directly addressed their areas of need in relation to digital literacy, with an added benefit of improving communication skills.

Tutors benefited by extra support, which meant they could concentrate on their lessons and spend less time providing support for essential digital skills in the classroom.

During the project, feedback from a tutor identified that the peer-to-peer support for her learners would be even better if it was more structured for her learners. She identified key skills that would specifically benefit their learning experience that should be provided during the peer-to-peer support. We adapted the mentoring model with the tutor providing support topics that were shared with the mentors.

Mentors mentioned that they would have benefited from role play in their training. We implemented this as role play is a very useful activity for building confidence and communication skills.

Following the programme some peer mentors are considering progressing to teaching assistant roles.

The peer-to-peer support enabled me to gain experience in sharing the digital skills that I learnt with lower-level learners and improve my skills in planning and working collaboratively with others. It gave me confidence and now I am thinking of progressing towards a teaching assistant role.
– G, Peer mentor

The project team’s research findings in relation to other similar research projects shows similar positive impact.

For example, previous research demonstrated that peers learning from other peers is the path to follow (De Boer et al, 2013; Koster et al, 2010). These positive results align with our findings where all students can feel accepted, make new friends and enhance their employability skills.

The participants’ growth and progress as the session increased was noticeable. It was transparent that the mentees looked up the mentors and that they were forming strong bonds.

– Owusu, 2020

We hope our project research outcomes will assist others who would like to implement a peer program at their institution.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to challenge our assumptions and build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners. There were discussions with colleagues about should we provide learners topics on what digital skills they need to improve on or give them the freedom to choose what they want to learn. These depended on learners’ individual needs and what worked for one learner did not work for the other. In conclusion, the peer-to-peer support was a great aid in the classroom as more learners gained digital skills and were able to better participate and support peers as well as a continuous interaction within staff themes from different departments.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour.

    During the programme we managed and promoted positive learner behaviour. A culture of mutual support and learning. Mentors interacted and supported each other sharing skills, knowledge and behaviour. Mentees brought back the knowledge they gained to their classrooms and further shared with their peers. The project enthused learners to develop a positive supportive behaviour across HALS.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    This learner-centred peer-to-peer approach enabled learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge by supporting each other individually and in their classroom. They were continuously learning new digital skills and experiencing fusion skills throughout.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Support Log

Appendix 4: Video Diaries

Appendix 5: Mentor Training Resources

Appendix 6: Project Padlet

Appendix 7: Project Short Film


De Boer, A., Pijl, S. J., Post, W., and Minnaert, A., (2013). Peer acceptance and friendships of students with disabilities in general education: The role of child, peer, and classroom variables. Social Development, 22(4), 831-844.

Koster, M., Pijl, S. J., Nakken, H., & Van Houten, E., (2010). Social participation of students with special needs in regular primary education in the Netherlands. International Journal of Disability, Development and Education, 57(1), 59-75.

McKinsey and Company (2021). Defining the skills citizens will need in the future world of work. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

Owusu, P., (2020). ‘Peer to Peer Mentoring: A Multiple-Case Study Evaluating the LINKS Peer Support Program’. Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository, pp.44 – 7062. [online]. Available at: [Accessed: 11 February 2022].

11c. Hopwood Hall College

Flipgrid for ESOL language development

Hopwood Hall College

This project utilised the video discussion platform Flipgrid (now Flip) to empower and develop ESOL learners’ language development in speaking and listening. The aim was to enhance learners’ confidence in communication and digital skills. Flipgrid was found to be an effective way to do this.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


In the ESOL teaching context, it is often difficult to find speaking and listening resources which meet learners’ needs. Published resources are often developed for global markets or have a focus on grammar. The practical nature of ESOL learning, requires practitioners to make adaptations to ensure relevance for ESOL learners. The development of digital educational tools has allowed teachers to explore and utilise a variety of digital technology to meet the needs of their learners. Flipgrid, which is a collaborative online video discussion platform, was chosen as it focusses on empowering learners through their own voice. In addition, it allows teachers to set tasks which relate to their daily lives. The interface is similar to most social media tools and be easily operated by anyone who has a smartphone.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The project was carried out in the ESOL department at Hopwood Hall College (FE) to support and develop the speaking skills of Level 1 ESOL learners. The learners attended classes for six hours per week. They were mostly from asylum seeker and refugee backgrounds. Their speaking and listening skills varied at Level 1; some were very confident while others required more support to gain confidence. Likewise, there were differences in their digital skills levels and access.


It was important that the learners were very clear about the aim of the project and what their expected level of involvement would be. The scope of the project was explained and example Flipgrids were used to demonstrate what learners would be required to do (Appendix 4).

It was important to explain that, as the Flipgrids were private, there would be no unauthorised viewing. Each group had a unique code which was only disseminated to that specific group. In addition, the email of each learner was added into the group; therefore, no unauthorised learners or Flipgrid users could access the group. This engendered a sense of security and increased comfort levels to upload audio or videos.

The process to download the app was straightforward and was completed by most learners in the class. Due to Wi-Fi accessibility some chose to do this at home. An introductory PowerPoint was created which learners could access via the college Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) at any time if they had any issues in the initial set up.

Learners then had to input their unique group code which would allow them to join their group. It was at this juncture that some issues were identified which required a review of how the learners’ emails were inputted. It was found that adding the domains as well the individual college email addresses solved this issue.

The initial task was to upload introductory videos, which would allow them to use the app from their phone (Appendix 5). Learners were able to explore the range of filters, emojis and backgrounds to personalise their Flipgrids. This proved to be a fun experience and the simplicity of the task allowed learners to focus on using Flipgrid rather than their English, which immediately built their confidence and overcame any initial resistance to using the app. Learners commented that:

I liked using it on my phone, it was so easy!”
“It’s private, just for me and my group.

I really liked using it and it’s fun. I can make my Flipgrid at home or at college because I can use my phone!

I liked using the filters and backgrounds, it was something different. I could make the Flipgrids in my way.

Learners were also able to choose whether they wanted to upload a video or an audio. This autonomy to do what they were comfortable with and allowed the learners to engage in the project. The feedback from the learners was positive as they felt in control of the narrative and the pace. They also enjoyed viewing their classmates’ videos and learning new details about them.

Learners who had not engaged in this activity were encouraged to join in and were bolstered by their colleagues. I think this collaborative encouragement was motivating for reluctant learners. Learners have since uploaded a range of Flipgrids to utilise the app to demonstrate their language acquisition. They review their Flipgrids and have visual evidence of their progress.

Outcomes and Impact

This section of the report shares outcomes and impact, in relation to teaching, learning and assessment, professional development and organisational development.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

In the next academic year Flipgrid will be utilised department wide for ESOL and workshops will be set up for other departments and support provided to embed its use. Flipgrid has shown that it is indeed a collaborative video discussion tool which supports asynchronous learning. It fosters an enjoyable social learning environment which benefits learners of all abilities.

Flipgrid has allowed us as practitioners to:

  • review learners’ comprehension of instructions to complete tasks
  • assess the development of speaking skill
  • celebrate learners’ strengths
  • identify areas of concern and provide actionable feedback
  • assess and reflect on my teaching practice.

Flipgrid has also allowed learners to:

  • enhance their communication and digital skills
  • reflect on their learning
  • gain confidence in their speaking and listening
  • connect with their fellow learners.
Diagram showing what Flipgrid can be used for.

Figure 1. Slide showing how Flipgrid can be used when working with ESOL learners.

Flipgrid is a versatile teaching tool which is restricted only by the teacher or learners’ imaginations. It could be used with low level learners all the way up to the higher levels and further to practise and embed a range of skills from pronunciation, listening to short stories, uploading book or film reviews, expressing their opinions on given topics, presenting information or debating points of view.

Teachers can use it to assess learners’ knowledge, contextual understanding and language acquisition. Flipgrids can range from simple feedback (reflective especially) to detailed narratives expressing opinions on a wide range of topics. As teachers we could use this tool to demonstrate learners starting points and progression as well as a formative and summative assessment tool.

Organisational Development

The use of Flipgrid can easily be embedded into every teacher’s teaching, learning and assessment activities and can be used with learners at all levels. The added bonus of a single sign-in using the learners/staff own college email and password allows ease of access. The functionality of Flipgrid is similar to other apps, such as social media, which makes it accessible to learners who are familiar with smartphones (Appendix 6). During a Digital CPD event, a demonstration was given on how to use Flipgrid and staff could see examples that had been created. One member of staff said, “It looks so fun, I miss that!” Another commented that:

It could be used to collect reflections from vocational learners on placement for work experience, rather than the learners coming back into college to sit with us and get their feedback.

Flipgrid can be used by anyone with access to a smartphone or a device with internet access. It is simple to use if learners have basic digital skills. For learners who couldn’t access Flipgrid at home (e.g. due to Wi-Fi access or digital poverty), they could use it at college. This makes it inclusive in respect of individual financial background. In addition, learners can demonstrate meaningful information related to their own opinions and observations.

Throughout the project, learning and observations were shared with other teachers within the department. Some teachers thought it was a good idea so also started using it. One member of staff said:

I’m definitely using this with my group. It’s a great way for me to give them a homework task and see who does and how well!

It is a flexible learning tool as tutors can use this at different language levels. For example, pre-entry ESOL learners could upload pronunciation of key topic words or make simple sentences. These activities can be adapted or new tasks created throughout the level. Level 2 learners could present structured arguments to support their point of view.

Learning from this project

Mango stated that ‘Flipgrid provided learners with a safe, low-stress platform for language practice while allowing them to track their progress, which in turn helped learners gain more confidence in their listening and speaking skills.’ (Mango, 2021: 277). Flipgrid was implemented with Level 1 ESOL learners who had varying levels of speaking skills. Their level was assessed through completion of an Entry Level 3 qualification or based on their initial assessment before commencing the course.

These learners could understand the application of Flipgrid and its benefits. It did not mean they were self-assured using it, which was shown clearly in the initial Flipgrids (Appendix 7). However, learners’ ease and level of active engagement with Flipgrid increased over time (Appendix 8).

Moreover, Holbeck and Hartman (2018) found Flipgrid to be an effective and relevant educational tool. They reported that it helped increase student engagement and communication in a secondary art classroom:

One of the earliest published studies that examines the efficacy of using Flipgrid in a language teaching context is McLain (2018) who found Flipgrid to be an effective learning tool for Business English Writing learners in Korea. Student-participants in McLain’s study reported that Flipgrid was beneficial for them to engage in language practice from home. Many participants also reported that they had perceived an increase in their English-speaking ability.

– Hammett, 2018: 36

During the speaking exams, the following feedback was noted from the assessors and interlocuters.

These learners were really prepared; they just completed that whole exam without the usual delays such as asking for more time or demonstrating signs of nervousness and anxiety.

The questions and answers were well executed. They really demonstrated active listening and mirrored language.

Although these learners practised independently, they also utilised Flipgrid for their speaking exam preparation in groups. The learners were able to view, not only their own Flipgrids but also their partners as many times as they needed to.

Flipgrid could be utilised at lower levels to identify how practical and beneficial this could be. Flipgrid made a noticeable difference to learners’ confidence, oracy and digital skills during this project. With patience and practice this could be incredibly useful for lower level ESOL learners as it would give them an opportunity to consolidate their language acquisition over the academic year. Utilising Flipgrid in sessions will enable teachers to encourage learners to engage asynchronously and improve their language and digital skills. Learners have ownership and control over what they produce and present while teachers gain clarity of each learner’s understanding and progression. One member of staff has started using it with young learners and said that, as Flipgrid is a single sign-in with the college email, it adds another layer of efficiency to using the app:

It’s great, I want to use it and the learners want to use it. They downloaded the app and have logged in so fast!

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    Our project used educational technology to support and develop teaching, learning and assessment. It made use of existing technology (smartphones) which learners had access to and were confident and familiar using. Flipgrid is a free app and website which can be downloaded. Learners can create their own accounts and sign in. It works well with common software such as MS Office which is widely used in academic institutions.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    This project developed learners’ speaking skills through the use of Flipgrid on a regular basis. Learners used the app frequently so became familiar and confident with it. They reflected on the Flipgrid recordings which had been uploaded and shared their ideas on how to improve. They also compared their first Flipgrid recording with their final recording and reflected on their progression. This allowed them to explore their progression and achievements, which in turn motivated them to do more.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Learners need digital skills to complete everyday tasks, access employment, communicate and study. Flipgrid is a simple way to promote these. It is free, easy to use, secure and private. Learners can practise recording audio and video in a supportive and or comfortable environment. It gave them the confidence to use similar apps and record audio and video. It also promoted language acquisition and appropriate and effective language use.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Resources

Appendix 4: Flipgrid Intro Videos

Appendix 5: Flipgrid Final Videos

Appendix 6: Training Resource for Teachers

Appendix 7: Flipgrid Activity Examples.

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


Boyce, J., (2022). Empowering English Learners: #Flipgrid4ELs Available at:

Difilippantonio-Pen, A., (2020). Flipgrid and Second Language Acquisition Using Flipgrid to Promote Speaking Skills for English Language Learners, Virtual Commons, Bridgewater State University, 5-2020, Available at:

Edwards, C.R., Lane, P.N., (2021). Facilitating Student Interaction: The Role of Flipgrid in Blended Language Classrooms, Computer Assisted Language Learning Electronic Journal, 22(2), Available at:

Hammett, D. A., (2021). Utilizing Flipgrid for speaking activities: A small scale university level EFL study, Technology in Language Teaching & Learning, 3(2), Available at:

Holbeck, R., Hartman, J. (2018). Efficient strategies for maximizing online student satisfaction: applying technologies to increase cognitive presence, social presence, and teaching presence, Available at:

Mango, O. (2021). Flipgrid: Learners’ perceptions of its advantages and disadvantages in the language classroom. International Journal of Technology in Education and Science (IJTES), 5(3), 277-287. Available at:

Shehane, M. J., (2015). Five strategies for using Flipgrid in the language learning classroom, Available at:, (2022). Integration Doc: Flipgrid in world languages, Available at:

11b. The Oldham College

Supporting second language learners in vocational courses

Oldham College

This project brought vocational and ESOL tutors together to collaborate on embedding language learning in vocational programmes. Through regular consultation with learners, we developed responsive strategies and helped learners use vocational vocabulary more confidently. We have identified digital and spoken skills as our next areas for development.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


ESOL and vocational tutors often have few opportunities to learn from each other and plan collaboratively. At Oldham College we have run ESOL vocational programmes for several years, but the vocational and ESOL elements have been planned and delivered separately by the respective specialist tutors.

Vocabulary and self-expression can be major barriers to progression for both ESOL learners and other learners on vocational programmes. Research shows that embedding language into vocational teaching can boost motivation, retention and achievement (Casey et al, 2006). This project aimed to bring vocational and ESOL tutors together to identify teaching and learning approaches that could help to bridge the gap between ESOL and vocational courses.

Other Contextual Information

This research took place at The Oldham College, a general FE college. We offer a wide range of vocational programmes of study, as well as ESOL classes from Starter level up to Level 2. ESOL learners who are working towards Level 1 have the option of choosing a vocational pathway to study alongside their language classes.

For this project we worked with a 16-19 ESOL business group, and two adult ESOL vocational groups, one studying Health and Social Care and the other Beauty. Both ESOL and vocational tutors were involved in developing and trialling teaching strategies.


Teachers were recruited via an internal college bulletin email and by direct invitation to those teaching on ESOL vocational programmes. Participants had an initial conversation with the project lead to discuss the aims and methods of the research.

Both ESOL and vocational tutors used observation and class discussion to identify where learners felt they required support with language for vocational learning. Learners identified work-specific vocabulary and understanding the spoken language of vocational tutors as areas for development. The Beauty tutor also noted that lack of digital skills was a barrier for adult learners who had very low engagement in online coursework activities.

Tutors subsequently met to discuss possible interventions from a range of ESOL and vocabulary teaching strategies. Frayer models and similar vocabulary recording methods (Appendix 3) were chosen as a simple and time-effective way of teaching and recording vocational terms. One ESOL tutor decided to use authentic vocational texts to reinforce vocabulary in ESOL lessons (Appendix 5).

From December, tutors began using a range of vocabulary activities in classes and recorded reflections, observations and learner comments on a visual template (Appendix 6). Examples of learner work were also collected as evidence of engagement and understanding (Appendix 4). Teachers met regularly with the project lead to discuss progress and further areas for development.

In order to address the digital skills gap identified with the Beauty group, the ESOL tutor planned an induction to Google Classroom. Learners took part in a group discussion about access to digital resources and it emerged that mobile compatibility was a key issue. The ESOL tutor planned a three-week programme of ESOL work on Google classroom to build digital skills and confidence. Learners were shown how to access and submit work on mobile phones. This strand of the work was then linked to vocabulary building through the use of Wordwall matching activities (Appendix 8). Engagement with resources was monitored, and learners were interviewed at the end of the programme to evaluate impact.

Throughout the project, visual templates were used to aid communication between teachers, students and researchers. In January, interviews were conducted with learners using a visual capture sheet. The template used the metaphor of a hot air balloon and a mountain to promote reflection about what supported their learning goals and what barriers still existed (Appendix 7). Several themes emerged from these interviews. One commonly mentioned issue was a lack of confidence in spoken English and the desire for more opportunities to practise speaking. This will inform future discussions with vocational tutors to identify opportunities to embed oracy into lessons.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The biggest impact of this project is that it has increased collaboration betweenLearner reflections using a visual template on their skills, challenges and capabilities. ESOL and vocational tutors, raising awareness of the specific needs of ESOL learners. Vocational tutors have tried a range of vocabulary strategies and reflected on their impact. This has led to further development of resources such as a vocabulary dictionary and matching activities (Appendix 9). Learners have engaged with the activities and demonstrated a better understanding of vocational terminology. In Business classes, learners have used technical language more accurately and frequently. Observations and discussions with learners in Beauty demonstrate that learners feel more confident in their understanding of subject-specific vocabulary. Learners commented on the value of using pictures and having support from the tutor with spelling. Learners have also been able to make links between their vocational and ESOL learning, commenting on the value of repeating learning across the different strands of their programme.

On the Beauty programme, engagement with online learning has increased. Learners have submitted online assignments and used uploaded slides to prepare for vocational lessons. They have also learned to create their own slides to make presentations. In interviews learners have said that they particularly value online quizzes due to their ease of access, instant feedback and repeatability. Consequently the project lead is now working with vocational tutors to plan further online vocabulary activities to support the work done in classrooms.

As a result of the research, there has been increased dialogue with learners leading to a better understanding of what they value in their learning and the barriers they perceive. One finding has been that many learners find that Level 1 vocational learning doesn’t meet their expectations. For example, learners on the Beauty course wanted to learn a range of techniques for make-up and hair and found that the content was too generic. In the early stages of the project a Beauty tutor queried why learners were limited to Level 1 when they were capable of a Level 2 qualification. This raises issues about entry requirements and perceptions of ESOL learners’ capabilities, providing valuable data to inform planning for next year’s programmes, including discussions about which qualifications should be offered.

Organisational Development

The project has enhanced cross-departmental relationships and communication. This has led to a more coherent study programme for learners on ESOL vocational courses. Feedback from learners and conversations between different subject specialists have identified areas where programme design could be improved to meet learner needs and expectations. The project has highlighted the importance of taking time to consult all stakeholders when planning a programme of study and ensuring that tutors working with the same group of learners are allocated time to meet, plan and problem-solve collaboratively.

The college is now planning a further piece of work looking at embedding maths and English into vocational courses. Learning from this project will help to inform next steps, which will include creating opportunities to bring vocational tutors together with English and maths specialists.

One of the outcomes of the project was the creation of a short digital induction for adult ESOL learners, providing an introduction to the college’s main learning platform. The Quality Department are now in the process of creating a digital strategy document and considering the introduction of a learner entitlement around access to digital skills and resources. Resources created for this project and feedback from learners will help us plan a digital induction programme.

Learning from this project

Some of the most useful learning from the project came from the process of conducting action research. Taking an exploratory approach has helped us to work more responsively, adapting and refining strategies to meet learner needs. While vocational tutors initially chose the Frayer model (Appendix 3) to teach vocabulary, they quickly found that different activities were better suited to their learners and vocational areas. In Business, the written glossary (Appendix 9) was a jumping off point for encouraging learners to use subject-specific language in their spoken and written work. The glossary allowed the tutor to set expectations about use of language in class. In Beauty, a different approach was needed due to the high number of technical terms. Pictures and repetition were important to help learners acquire and retain the unfamiliar vocabulary.

Vocational tutors were already confident about teaching vocabulary as this was seen as a key part of vocational learning for all learners. However, the project has prompted a renewed focus on providing different ways for learners to practise. Increased consultation with learners has led us to explore different avenues such as planning speaking activities with a vocabulary focus. Learners have said that they appreciate regular practice and consistency of approaches between vocational and ESOL tutors. One vocational tutor introduced regular spelling tests as a result of the project and found that it motivated the group and helped them to retain knowledge: “I wish I’d done it from the start”.

The success of visual templates to guide learner discussion and tutor reflections was another learning outcome from the project. One group of learners was given a picture of a mountain and a hot-air balloon (Appendix 9), representing challenges they face and what supports them to progress. In the absence of specific questions that might be asked in a focus group or survey, learners were free to have wide-ranging conversations which identified many issues beyond the scope of the project. These included pastoral issues and expectations about their programme as well as concerns about language proficiency. For tutors, a visual template provided a focus for reflective practice (Appendix 6) without over-burdening participants with paperwork. Tutors made short notes which efficiently captured key learning points and next steps.

Next Steps

One area for further work is the practicalities of releasing tutor time for collaborative work. Although funding was available, the constraints of timetabling and staffing difficulties meant that we have so far been unable to organise peer observations as initially hoped. There are ongoing conversations between Quality and Heads of Faculty about how to enable staff to collaborate more effectively, and where there could be more flexibility in timetabling. The college is considering ring-fencing more time for continuous professional development (CPD), which may create more opportunities for this kind of work.

While learners did express concerns about vocational vocabulary at the beginning of their programme, more in-depth interviews in January revealed that spoken English was now their primary concern. It has been relatively easy to address vocabulary learning through resource development, whereas it may be more complex to agree on interventions to address oracy. Developing speaking requires time, teaching expertise and changes to the way lessons are planned and delivered.

Our next steps will be to arrange peer observations and further discussions between ESOL and vocational tutors to shape strategies for developing speaking in vocational classes. As we begin to plan next year’s programmes, we intend to undertake a language audit with vocational tutors to analyse the functions and lexis needed for specific subject specialisms (Colquhoun & Delaney, 2009). Both ESOL and vocational tutors will then be better equipped to embed bespoke language learning in vocational programmes.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    The most important outcome of the project has been the improved communication between teachers from different areas and learners. Vocational and ESOL tutors have met regularly, leading to a better understanding of each other’s subject areas and collaborative problem solving. For example, in Beauty we were able to identify digital skills as a barrier to progression in the vocational course and work together to improve learner access to their online coursework.

    Learners have been consulted regularly about their perspective, leading to a greater understanding of their needs. While the project initially focussed on vocabulary learning, open conversations with learners generated a more nuanced view of the challenges of studying a vocational subject as an ESOL learner. This is leading to further work around the embedding of oracy in vocational learning.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    The use of a visual template to record reflections has allowed teachers to quickly note the impact of new teaching strategies. Teachers have identified the most helpful resources for vocabulary building and refined their approaches based on learner responses and their own reflections. There have also been opportunities to meet with other tutors and share techniques. Tutors have invited learners to try a range of templates for recording vocabulary and choose which ones they find most useful. Impact has been assessed through observation of learners in class and through learner evaluations.

  • 16. Address the mathematics and English needs of learners and work creatively to overcome individual barriers to learning.

    The project has focused on the English needs of learners. By consulting learners from the early stages of the project, we identified a range of barriers. Working collaboratively has brought a range of perspectives to the task of addressing learning needs. Tutors have shared and adapted templates and experimented with new ways to teach and practice vocational vocabulary. Methods have been adapted to suit different subject specialisms. For example, in Beauty there is a lot of technical vocabulary which can be explained through pictures and diagrams. We therefore used online matching activities to help learners understand and practise the terminology.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Vocabulary Recording Templates

Appendix 4: Examples of Student Work

Appendix 5: Vocational Authentic Texts

Appendix 6: Tutor Reflections on Visual Template

Appendix 7: Student Reflections on Balloon Visual Template

Appendix 8: Online Resources: Wordwall

Appendix 9: Additional Resources Developed for ESOL Vocational Classes

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster above and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


Casey, H., Cara, O., Eldred, J., Grief, S., & Hodge, R. (2006). ‘You wouldn’t expect a maths teacher to teach plastering…’ Embedding literacy, language and numeracy in post-16 vocational programmes – the impact on learning and achievement. London: NRDC. Accessible at:

Colquhoun, S., & Delaney, J.A. (2009), ESOL issues for teachers in the lifelong learning sector. In A. Paton, & M. Wilkins, Teaching Adult ESOL, (pp.253-264). Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Education.

Rahman, Z., et al., (no date) To explore ESOL/EAL specific teaching and learning interventions of key words and phrases in the GCSE maths classroom and how they impact on learners’ progress, Education and Training Foundation, Available at:

10c. Islington ACL

Supporting the Essential Digital Skills of ESOL and low-level English students

Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL)

This project road-tested a powerful, in-house PowerPoint resource aimed at supporting ESOL and lower-level English learners to develop their knowledge and confidence in the application of Essential Digital Skills (EDS). Students reportedly enjoyed being able to use these new skills in their learning, their everyday lives and even to submit better quality homework. A rewarding by-product of the project was that colleagues developed new approaches in their teaching and acquired and shared new digital skills of their own into the bargain.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Islington Adult Community Learning (ACL) sought to address the Essential Digital Skills deficit of learners in the Borough by utilising a multi-layered, bespoke PowerPoint resource to introduce a step-by-step guide to a range of highly relevant digital skills in an accessible, visual and practical way. This resource was the product of ACL engaging in a previous OTLA project with the Education and Training Foundation (ETF). This latest project responded to feedback about using the resource, developing it further and refining its use in the classroom and for independent use by students. This term saw a return to face-to-face teaching. A return to the classroom has enabled adults who are digitally excluded at home to benefit from this project by using a variety of handheld devices.

Other Contextual Information

Islington ACL is a Local Authority Adult and Community Learning provider that operates out of dedicated spaces in libraries, children’s centres, community spaces and partner venues. Three experienced ESOL and English tutors participated in the project together with up to forty of their students. They included a Pre-entry Level/Entry Level 1 English class, an Entry Level 2/Entry Level 3 ESOL class, an English Grammar class and two dyslexic students who engaged in one-to-one support with their tutor.


Among the challenges experienced early on in the project, tutors initially battled with a resource so substantial in size that the digital resources available in classrooms and learners’ personal devices could not cope with downloading and viewing it. The resource covers a series of separate but connected topics and individual slides have multiple animations which make it a large file. Unfortunately, the colleagues originally involved in creating the resource were unavailable for this stage of the project. However, this afforded the new project team the opportunity to explore ways of reducing the size of the resource, eventually scaling it down into themed slide sets, for example, ‘presenting work’, ‘meeting apps (Zoom)’ and – as demonstrated below – ‘keyboard and keyboard skills’.

Screenshot of EDS keyboard skills PowerPoint.

Another issue that presented itself was that this versatile and well-produced resource was created on modern computers with the latest software. This highlighted the limitations of the technology and outdated software available to tutors in some of the learning spaces. Fortunately for this project, the service has invested significantly in upgrading computers and software since the start of the year, which will contribute greatly to the EDS development of both learners and tutors.

Having cleared these hurdles, and in order to establish a baseline of digital skills, tutors conducted an initial skills audit (Appendix 6) to determine extent of digital literacy, access to and use of digital devices and level of digital skills confidence of their learner cohorts. This helped identify those aspects of the resource that would be of most usefulness and relevance to each learner.

Tutors were also encouraged to keep a diary of the activities undertaken whilst utilising the resource and to reflect on its application and impact on learners. An important aspect of the project were the bi-weekly meetings of the whole project team. These provided an opportunity to feedback on progress, share successes, discuss and overcome challenges and to contribute development suggestions.

The project deputy also made mid-term and end of term visits to classrooms to engage with learner participants and to hear first-hand the impact of what they had learnt through using this resource in the classroom. The detailed notes taken during these meetings and classroom visits have helped inform the findings in this report.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutors involved in this project commented positively on the impact this research has had on their teaching, learning and assessment activities (see Appendices 2 and 3). Collec tively, they had appreciated the benefits of being part of a community of practice (Wenger, 1998), being able to share experiences, learn from each other and explore insights. As one tutor commented:

After seeing [my colleague’s] marking of homework in PDF format, I reached out to her as I wanted to improve my marking technique, too.

Individually, tutors were able to express how incorporating EDS into their teaching had A learner practising their digital skills.
enhanced the learning experience of their students and opened up new possibilities for
assessment activities. One tutor, who had focussed on incorporating the Zoom chat
facility in classes, described feeling personally ‘more confident’ about introducing digital skills into lessons. They had now started to plan for it and found using Zoom chat, for example, ‘very useful for writing activities, brainstorming and other tasks’.

Another tutor felt the project had ‘encouraged me to investigate alternative ways to set homework’ including, as the example below demonstrates, supporting students to use Padlet, which was enthusiastically embraced.

While teaching an online grammar class at Level 1/Level 2, this tutor also devised a homework activity using MS Forms. At the first attempt twelve learners completed the task, including three learners who hadn’t submitted their homework before. Buoyed by the success of this activity, the tutor has gone on to present a workshop on using MS Forms for assessment available to all tutors in ACL.

It has been inspiring to see how each of the tutors involved in the project have felt compelled to adapt or create another feature or theme for the EDS resource to meet the specific needs of their learners.

A good example is reflected in the comment of one learner whose tutor told us:

He would now be able to read his emails on being shown how to use the Speak accessibility function on his iPhone. He was amazed to have his texts read aloud too.

Another student with dyslexia put it even more succinctly:

You literally changed my life.

Organisational Development

Islington ACL has implemented considerable change in supporting learners developing their digital skills. This is most evident in the swift migration to online teaching and learning in response to classrooms closing because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This EDS project has highlighted a raft of new opportunities for promoting the use of technology in teaching and learning and in supporting learners in its use. Moreover, learners have been encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning through stretch and challenge activities whereby, for example, they created and presented coursework using digital technology (see Appendix 5 for further details).

It has been pleasing to report on the positive collaborations among tutor colleagues, sharing information, problem solving and inspiring further experimentation. In turn, this has fostered even greater positive relationships with learners who have had their lives transformed by their tutor introducing them to digital technology, as one learner put it:

Thank goodness I have learnt about this now!

The project team have shared the resource with other institutions nearby, but have not had any feedback from them as yet. Internally, project participants from three curriculum areas have already begun sharing their insights with staff from other curriculum areas, including devising new resources in online workshops. We look forward to them presenting further their creativity and innovation in forthcoming Inset days.

Learning from this project

In reviewing the reflections of tutors involved in this project, several key themes emerged (see Appendices 2 and 3 for a comprehensive exploration of these themes). Firstly, tutors said they felt encouraged to investigate and innovate. Secondly, they could see more clearly now the barriers experienced by their learners’ digital exclusion or lack of confidence in their digital skills (see also Appendix 4). There was a universal appreciation of the benefits to be had from working collaboratively with colleagues and timetabling for that to happen. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the project heightened awareness of the transformative impact of embedding EDS in these ESOL/English classes and the ripple effect it had on other areas of learners’ lives.

There were some challenges early on, but the project team readily adapted to modifying the resource themselves when it became necessary to do so. Linked to this was the importance of having up to date software and technology available to allow quality teaching and learning of EDS to occur.

While not a particular concern for this project, conversations were had about possible ‘institutional resistance’ to introducing a ‘digital skills experiment’ into non-digital skills curriculum areas. One of the welcome impacts of engaging in a recognised evidence-based research project like this one is that it validates the activity and places it firmly in the domain of maintaining and developing professional standards. It also underlines the importance of disseminating and discussing the findings widely with teaching colleagues and across all tiers of management.

Looking ahead, participants in this project are already working on their own innovations to add to the resource. A next step would be to invite teaching staff from other curriculum areas – vocational and employability, maths and family learning, for example – to incorporate the EDS resource into their activities. It is anticipated that participants in this latest project will act as mentors to those who respond to this invitation.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 9. Critically review and apply your knowledge of educational research, pedagogy, and assessment to develop evidence-informed practice.

    Within our own organisation the project supported cross curriculum collaboration and an extension of this project is to encourage other curriculum colleagues to develop and share their own EDS resources. Action research and evidenced-based research within ACL is increasingly being seen as having a role to play in meeting objectives like closing the digital skills gap among local residents, raising standards of teaching and learning and promoting professional collaboration to the benefit of the service.

  • 10. Share and update knowledge of effective practice with colleagues, networks and/or research communities to support improvement.

    Tutors took part in bi-weekly meetings with the whole project team to discuss their own practice and share how it had impacted on their learners. Tutors were encouraged to engage learners to speak openly about participating in the research and the impact it had on their learning. This provided a useful triangulation for assessing the overall impact of the project.

  • 16. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    The project focused on developing online resources that would give learners the underpinning knowledge and skills to support their own online learning. It was encouraging to see how quickly the digital skills acquired fed into their personal online activities with social media as well as enhanced confidence in accessing online resources for independent learning.


Appendix 2: Tutor Reflections 1

Appendix 3: Tutor Reflections 2

Appendix 4: Case Studies

Appendix 5: Learner Work Demonstrating Before & After Intervention

Appendix 6: Pro forma Templates


Wenger, E (1998) Communities of Practice Learning, Meaning and Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Read the team’s previous action research project.

10b. City of Bristol College

Can language learning apps enhance the classroom experience for ESOL learners?

City of Bristol College

This project aimed to explore a digital language learning package to support ESOL learners in the city of Bristol. The digital tool decided on was FlashAcademy. The project team sought to gain honest, accurate feedback from their learners as to their experiences using the digital learning package, in addition to feedback from teachers on their impact. The project explored how to use the tools in and outside of the classroom in a blended learning format and through asynchronous activities. The project culminated in an event bringing all the project participants together: the managers, the teachers and the learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Our project took place with five groups of learners over different ages, genders and levels. It took place within the ESOL department of City of Bristol College, both ESOL 16–18-year-olds and ESOL adults. The range of groups was Entry Level 1 to Level 1. The majority of the research took place within groups of more than 10 learners and one lecturer worked individually with learners. There were three lecturers in total and two project leads.

The project team wanted to find out how effective (if at all) language learning apps are to support learning both in and out of the classroom. The pandemic and subsequent forced use of online delivery served to bring the issue of digital language learning to the forefront of teacher discussions. Teachers of learners at all levels were taken by surprise at how well many learners coped with using their mobile phones to access their language learning. Towards the end of the last academic year, some teachers trialled a standalone language app with a small group to supplement their online lessons and wanted to extend this further with a different software package.

Other Contextual Information

City of Bristol College is the principal provider of ESOL courses in the city. The ESOL provision is large (approx. 1500 learners per year), extremely broad and aims to support all learners to gain language skills, qualifications and confidence to progress in their education, work and independent lives in the city.

Screenshot of FlashAcademy topics.

Figure 1: Some of the topics on FlashAcademy


We chose to use the FlashAcademy platform for this project as it had a number of different features that were attractive to the teachers, and we felt learners would enjoy using it. One learner log-in gave access to multiple devices which meant that they could use college laptops or their own devices. It was accessible in 30+ home languages and had content that fit the required levels including vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar. Behind the scenes, teachers could set specific lessons for their groups or the learners could work through the content. Teachers could track progress via the app’s reporting settings and the learners could play games, allowing them to score points on a leader board.

Screenshot of lessons set by teachers.

Figure 2: Lessons set by teachers

After spending time becoming familiar with the app and showing it to learners, the teachers decided to use the app in different ways. They used it to set tasks as homework or asynchronous lessons to supplement the learning in the classroom. Two teachers also used it as an extension activity for when learners finish tasks sooner in the lesson, or as an independent learning activity while they hold tutorials with individual learners.

Towards the end of the research period, each teacher used a tutorial session to capture learners’ thoughts using a semi-structured interview format. This enabled the teachers to capture the views of the whole class as not all were able to attend the wrap up event.

Screenshot of leader board.

Figure 3: Leader board

At the end of the research, the group decided to bring all of the learners involved in the research together for a final capture of evidence (see Appendix 3) and as a social activity to thank them for their participation. The teachers posed closed questions to the learners and got them to move around the room to the number that best reflected their answer. Following that, the learners were put into smaller focus groups and asked open ended questions. Prizes were awarded to the learner in each class that had scored the highest number of points and they were treated to a buffet lunch.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

From analysing the evidence, we found that learners mostly enjoyed using the app to supplement their learning and, in most cases, the content of the app supported what was being taught in the classroom. This enabled the learners to continue their learning at home. We asked learners questions about the level of challenge and most found content very easy. For the most part, learners found the app very easy to use and were able to navigate through its different functions. There was no difference in response between the adults or the 16-18s. When we asked how much they felt they learned from the app, the responses were very mixed and evenly spread between the markers. They felt it supplemented what they were doing in the classroom but they didn’t learn much in the way of new content.

Within the appendices below, responses are shown for all questions, with some descriptive comments to give a feel for the numbers and statements. One thing that we were very surprised about was the fact that the majority of learners decided to use the app in English rather than their home language. One of the key selling points for the app was that the learners can access it in more than thirty home languages, but some outlined that there were mistakes in the translation and that if they are there to learn English – they wanted it all in English!

The learners particularly liked the gamification of the app, especially the 16-18 age group who are predominantly male. They explained that they liked the competition and moving up the leader board. This was less of a highlight for the adult groups.

Organisational Development

This academic year, the 16-18 and Adult ESOL teams were merged. This project provided a great opportunity for staff to work together who had previously never met as they worked on different campuses, within different departments and different age groups. Apart from the final event, we conducted the whole project remotely. The team worked collaboratively using a Microsoft Teams page, Teams meetings and shared documents to work effectively without having ever met.

Following on from this project, the team are currently exploring other apps and platforms to support language learning in the next academic year. We think that by involving staff in the decision-making process and the trial, there has been a greater buy-in and commitment to the platform. The developers were very keen to support us in this project and offered several training and troubleshooting sessions for the staff to help them get up and running with it.

One of the teachers stated:

Normally, I don’t use apps in my teaching/classroom as I have regarded them as a distraction from traditional teaching and potentially creating more work for me. However, since starting this research I have been pleasantly surprised that in FlashAcademy I can facilitate learning through technology by setting tasks/lessons based on classroom topics for learners. For some learners their natural curiosity has led them to do different levels and lessons independently. My adult learners have many commitments and use this app to fit around their busy lives.

This teachers’ full account can be found as Appendix 2.

Learning from this project

Reflecting on the use of online platforms and apps and what led us to make choices for ourselves and the learners has been a useful exercise. Some of the learners appeared to enjoy the attention of being part of a research project and having their opinions being valued too. This is something that we are keen to take forward as a college; having regular learner engagement events to discuss different topics will add a lot of value.

Within our organisation, like most, funding is always a struggle. As much as we would like to invest in digital platforms, often teachers source their own or search out free equivalents. The teachers found that many of the features of this app were useful e.g. being able to track learner progress via a dashboard, being able to use one log-in on multiple devices and having content that broadly followed the ESOL curriculum. However, they did find that it was occasionally glitchy. Some learners lost all of their ‘points’ and so were back at the bottom of the leader board despite their best efforts. They also found that the app had a facelift halfway through the project which confused both staff and learners when they logged back on.

Getting the balances between giving learners something to do versus something that is relevant and useful to current topics/skills and between ease of use and usefulness is difficult. If an app is difficult to use or unreliable, it is no good to the busy teacher.

FlashAcademy falls down in some areas at the moment although it does have its merits too which come out in the research feedback and there were more positives from the more motivated adult learners.

Following on and inspired by the work on this project, we are considering which apps or platforms we would like to offer for our staff and students for the next academic year. This project has given us the tools to critique the different features they offer. We quickly challenged our own assumptions around digital learning and technology and will be spending time with the rest of the team so that they can see its benefits and be prepared for the year ahead.

Screenshot of the topics with teacher and learner feedback on top inc: multimodal format, ability to repeat as and when needed, and fulfilling a natural curiosity

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    We utilised the electronic resource with a wide variety of learners, gathered feedback in various contexts and reflected on that feedback to inform how we could best meet future needs of similar groups of learners. For example, noting that an option to allow some learners to receive instruction in their mother tongue aided some learners (but not the majority who preferred the simplicity of having both instructions and learning in English as the language being learned.) This may inform our future use of similar electronic resources.

  • 5. Value and promote social and cultural diversity, equality of opportunity and inclusion.

    Our project involved learners from a range of backgrounds including age, gender, ethnicity, disability etc. All were supported to participate and those who struggled with the technology were provided with additional support. When we brought the learners together at the end of the project, they were able to socialise and meet people from other classes usually based on other campuses. We managed to connect three learners who had come from a minority ethnic group within Afghanistan who swapped numbers and have become friends.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Not all of the teachers involved were keen users of technology in the classroom. One in particular used it very little. This project has given her the confidence to reflect on her practice and to work with more ‘techy’ colleagues to trial new things in her classroom. While the teachers work in the same department, it is very large and they didn’t know each other so it has provided the opportunity to share practice and resources.

    One of the other teachers sits in the middle and uses some tech but, during the project, she applied for an internal position of ‘digital champion’ to support college staff with developing their digital skills.

10a. Essex ACL

‘Teaching nuggets’: go-to resources for supporting ESOL and low-level literacy learners with digital skills.

ACL Essex

This was a project to exemplify cross-curricular collaboration between IT, English and ESOL colleagues in the creation of fun, easy to use resources that promote good digital skills and literacy teaching practice. These resources were intended to be complete and ready to deliver in any classroom.

ESOL, English and Digital learners participated in the project and had the opportunity to reflect on and review the ‘nugget’ resources and the impact on their learning. We unearthed a real hunger for collaboration between our areas. Furthermore, the project has promoted a practical approach to resource creation and sharing that is having a reach throughout our organisation and beyond.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Ensuring no one is left behind on the journey to digital literacy and being confident in participating in life in the digital age, had become a priority for us post lockdown.

In some cases, asking tutors to explicitly teach digital skills to ESOL/literacy learners was not an option as tutors themselves lacked confidence. We also noticed that offering ESOL/literacy learners a place on a digital skills course was prohibitive as IT tutors felt less equipped to differentiate.

We had observed that in the abrupt move to online teaching our already time-poor tutors had become overwhelmed with the volume of new material, links, ideas, and resources available to them. The rationale was to give the resources an immediately practical application, rather than anything steeped in theory.

Therefore, we set out to create quick, easy and fun resources that any tutor, regardless of subject specialism, could use to encourage learner confidence using tech. Moreover, the collaboration would embolden IT tutors with their understanding of how to approach differentiation for ESOL/ literacy learners whilst teaching digital courses.

Other Contextual Information

ACL Essex is the leading adult education provider in Essex and has adult community learning centres in most of the major towns in the county. The eight sites across Essex deliver a combination of centre-based, online live and online self-study courses.

Functional Skills English, ESOL and Digital Skills tutors, based at different centres across Essex, were invited to participate in the project by Curriculum Leads. Tutors attended an online workshop to collaborate on ideas for the teaching ‘nuggets’.

As the resources were developed and made more accessible, more tutors from across the service were invited to use them and subsequently participated in the project.

The learners who participated were attending accredited ESOL, Supported Learning English, Functional Skills English and Digital classes from pre-entry to Entry Level 2. They were given the opportunity to give feedback on the teaching nuggets and reflect on their digital progress.


We initially started by focussing on ‘pitching’ the idea to teaching staff (Appendix 3). We presented the phases of the project as the following:

  • Phase 1: ideas sharing
  • Phase 2: contribution of content
  • Phase 3: development of content into physical / digital resources
  • Phase 4: trial and results.

Screenshot to show resources produced during planning phase of the project.We consulted staff about using their time to:

  • participate in an interactive webinar
  • create and maintain a collaborative space
  • submit ideas for the content of the resources
  • assist in producing the resources
  • trial the resources with learners and collate feedback
  • any additional ad hoc sharing of ideas and thoughts.

Once we had gathered tutors and managers who wanted to be involved, we delivered an interactive webinar (Appendix 3) to generate the first ideas for resources. The resource ideas needed to be moulded into a specific ‘template’ to ensure they were usable and could be easily accessed by time-poor tutors.

An initial set of these ‘nuggets’ were then trialled by tutors at opportunities that we felt would integrate well with existing lesson and course planning. We made the ‘nuggets’ accessible to staff via TEAMS, internal team meetings, word of mouth and a Padlet (See Appendix 3).

Feedback started to come in via MS forms, photos of learners in the classroom engaging with the activities (‘nuggets in action’) and another Padlet for written reflections of using the resources.

Images showing learners developing their digital skills.

In January we identified, via the support of our mentor, that the project needed upscaling in terms of the amount of teaching nuggets being produced as well as the generating of feedback. She encouraged us to re-assess who was involved and how we were assigning tasks to participants. We brought new people on board (tutors low on hours or those with developmental feedback from Observations of Teaching and Learning) and this, as predicted by Chloë our Mentor, resulted in more output and more feedback. This increase in production was an uplift we all needed and from there we saw the enthusiasm to share the project through the organisation and beyond grow. We increased the broadcast reach for the ideas as finished nuggets via an internal Ideas Room, curriculum managers’ meeting and a blog on PDNorth FE Tapestry and NATECLA East of England website.

Additionally, we discovered that to make these resources ‘accessible’ to staff they needed to be in places where staff go to plan. Our approach of sharing internally and via Padlet was, we realised, not hitting the brief of these resources becoming part of a tutor’s natural planning arsenal. In a team meeting, ESOL staff identified Skills Workshop as one of their top places to source new resources:

Screenshot of polled responses to what is your go to for planning lesson activities.

So, we contacted Skills Workshop and they have published some of the ideas.

Device of the DayScreenshot of keyboard confidence resource.
Supermarket Sweep
Keyboard Confidence
Identifying devices and icons

We scheduled a final session with participants to conclude findings and gather feedback on just how usable they now find these.

When we have come to the end of the project, we thought more about the ethical considerations around who the work belonged to and how it should be credited when sharing. In the final meeting with contributing participants, we posed this question to them and asked if they felt their input had been sufficiently credited. Some people felt they had not. As a result, we have ensured practitioner names are attached to all resources shared on internal and external sites.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Tutor feedback from ESOL Intermediate doing the ‘Join the Library’ nugget:

Used with 8 Intermediate students… They were all familiar with borrowing books: one had already used library computers, but the rest were surprised to find out the many facilities on offer. They were particularly surprised by the crafts available and that there were so many things for children. None had heard about the Library of Things and were interested in this.

They enjoyed searching the website together. They supported each other and it prompted good discussion. By supporting each other, they found all the info they wanted. It took about 30 minutes (also inc some extra discussion/vocab about genres of books).

Digital Skills Tutor Feedback on Identifying Icons nugget:

I used this as an opener in all six of my Digital Skills classes. They all really enjoyed it and gave positive feedback on Teams. It was a little easy for some of them (L1s). I liked the fact that they could see their answers and then have another attempt to try and get a better score; so learning directly from it.

Learner feedback on Supermarket Sweep nugget:

This was good for me as my keyboard skills are not very good. My spelling is not very good but the computer was able to guess what I meant which helped me with my list. I need to do more keyboard skills.’

It was good to put a list together and easier to get into the website than I thought. I copied my list in and this helped me recognise the words.’

I am a beginner keyboard user, so I am very slow. It was interesting but I need more practise.

The nuggets encouraged easy steps to digitise existing activities. As such, learners have increased access to activities which naturally embed digital skills. For example, a generic writing task, such as writing an invitation to a friend for dinner, can be transformed by encouraging real time use of digital resources. This could be done by typing a real email on a mobile phone and sending to the tutor rather than a paper version of an email template.

For example:

Screenshot of an email from learner.Aside from the impact on learners, the project has facilitated improved collaboration between curriculum areas. The group sessions for generating ideas provided a platform for sharing that didn’t exist before between IT, English and ESOL teams. Finding the opportunities has been hard (due to the nature of our organisation spread over 9 venues and our current workload) but the opportunities have opened up visibility of ESOL/literacy issues to the IT curriculum and communication on enrolments has increased.

Additionally, the teaching nuggets, encouraged time-poor tutors to understand that improving learner access to digital opportunities is neither difficult or time consuming or a high brow idea. One tutor, whose most recent Observation of Teaching and Learning saw an action plan to digitalise some of her writing activities and created the ‘live emails’ resource, reflected:

I love how easy it is to not only to use this format, but also to share samples anonymously for correcting as a class. I will definitely use live emails again.

Tutor feedback has been that they have been empowered by their ideas being shared widely, and this has had an impact on morale and a sense that their CPD and new approach to lesson planning is now having an impact. “Feedback on Device of the Day has brightened a gloomy week” reported one of our participants.

The enthusiasm for this ‘off the shelf’ lesson planning concept gained traction with extended and senior leadership. Our vice principle reported that he had “ideas for nuggets on sticky notes all over my desk” after the project was shared in an ACL ‘ideas room’ event.
Literacy learners and tutors are a resource poor section of our provision. This project has plugged a gap to an extent. For example, one of our participants who works across English and Supported Learning has expressed how inspiring the project has been for creating and accessing fresh resources.

Organisational Development

ACL Essex is an educational service which is divided and managed by curriculum area – not by geographical area. Although Microsoft Teams has allowed better team building within each curriculum area, with team meetings now better attended than ever, there is little collaboration across the curriculum areas. We believe that this project has offered an opportunity for tutors to come together, consider other disciplines and to think more creatively to develop digital teaching nuggets.

Although the current focus is on supporting and encouraging digital opportunities for learners with low literacy skills, the project has the potential to embrace more curriculum areas as we encourage all learners at all levels to actively engage with the digital world, improve their skills and grow in confidence.

Moving forward, we want the project to have a legacy. We intend to develop further nuggets to be made available on topics such as online safety, sustainability, accessibility, British Values and numeracy.

Our technology manager has been enthusiastic in promoting the collaboration between the curriculum areas and the digital platforms we use. The nuggets will be embedded as part of a planned Digi Fest event in the summer. This has been a great improvement for the question we came up against in terms of how we would give the nuggets’ reach.

Learning from this project

What went well: when we communicated the idea for this the response was great within the platforms we shared. Having IT, ESOL and English practitioners was so inspiring and really highlighted how real and relevant this project was.

Even better if: this has been about scale and timing. We were slow off the mark with producing the content and spent too long in recruiting staff, pitching the idea and generating ideas. This left us little time to give the finished resources a platform and therefore generate the volume of feedback in the timescale.

An additional challenge was things we couldn’t control, such as lots of staff absences and cover, which means some work didn’t get done in as timely a fashion. We reflected and scaled back and focused on just a few nuggets creating a template for future development.

Lastly, we, like any content creators, worry about the ‘updateability’ of the resources. Against such a fast-changing educational backdrop and with sustainability in mind, we chose not to produce hard copies of the bank of resources we created – rather to only make the resources available via the digital channels mentioned above. However, that still leaves us with the challenge of how and how often we should update the nuggets. Even within the timescale of the project, one nugget on the topic of ‘online form filling’ around an activity to order lateral flow tests in real time, started to feel like old news. We hope that by really promoting the simplicity of turning an idea into a nugget by using the simple Nugget template, will mean that we can just keep on collecting the ideas as they come in rather than update existing ones and as such can build an interesting back catalogue of teaching ideas.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project allowed space for IT, English and ESOL teams to share their expertise and understand the pedagogy and value of different approaches – in a way that does not happen regularly. For example, using verbal recollections to relay steps in a process underpins processing of language (e.g., use of imperative) but also allows to breakdown and simplify processes required to be successful in digital tasks.

  • 4. Select and use digital technologies safely and effectively to promote learning.

    This project offered an opportunity to promote functional digital skills across multiple curriculum areas. By embedding the ideas from Digital Skills Framework within other areas, we were actively facilitating the teaching of themes around staying safe online.

  • 6. Develop collaborative and respectful relationships with learners, colleagues and external stakeholders.

    From the offset the project focussed on bringing staff together. We focussed our attention on promoting the project to multiple curriculum areas and setting up a collaborative space for ideas to be shared in. We facilitated an interactive webinar as part of the idea forming stage and this was received as being uplifting for practitioners who have often felt they work in isolation. Lack of time and space to work across curriculum areas is cited by tutors as a barrier to sharing of practice in our organisation which is spread across multiple sites throughout the county. This project opened up avenues for how this can be overcome.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Planning and collaboration resources

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.

Sharing and Dissemination

In addition to the resources being shared via The Skills Workshop website, the project lead wrote two blogs about the project:

Bates, A., (2022). ‘Teaching Nuggets: Demystifying digital’. FE Tapestry. Available at: Teaching Nuggets – PDNorth #FEtapestry [accessed 8.6.22].

Bates, A., (2022). ‘Teaching Nuggets: De-mystifying digital’. NATECLA East of England. Available at: Teaching Nuggets: De-mystifying digital – NATECLA East of England  [accessed 8.6.22].

9c. Buckinghamshire College Group

Can ESOL pedagogy be applied to GCSE and Functional Skills delivery to develop responsive teaching and learning?

Buckinghamshire College Group

This project aimed to utilise ESOL teaching methodologies, learning techniques and strategies to develop and enhance Functional Skills and GCSE English delivery to Study Programme and Apprenticeship students.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The original remit of the project aimed to develop effectiveness of delivery of Functional Skills English to Apprentices who had English as a second language and develop Functional Skills delivery to ESOL students. However, at our first meeting, we discussed how teachers with a CELTA qualification or ESOL background tended to approach teaching from a student centred, learning by task, or discovery standpoint, whereas GCSE English teachers expressed that they sometimes felt constrained by the GCSE syllabus and compelled to deliver exam style content. Therefore, we hoped that exploring ESOL pedagogy would enable more active and discovery-led learning to meet individual needs.

Other Contextual Information

ESOL teachers developed and delivered the sessions then Functional Skills teachers attended the sessions and reflected on the approaches then both the ESOL teachers and FS/GCSE teachers adapted their classroom practice

Our action research was part of The Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and involved the English and ESOL departments within our FE college. Our project was a planned collaboration between two departments to share teaching methodologies and expertise. The project had a layered approach in terms of the ‘students’ within the plan, act, observe and reflect model of research. Firstly, the project team comprised of the manager and two ESOL teachers who developed an in-house training programme. Secondly, this was delivered to six Functional Skills/GCSE teachers, who reflected on their learning in these sessions. Thirdly, the ESOL teachers and the Functional Skills/GCSE teachers adapted their practice based on their reflections on sessions to trial new approaches with their students, meaning twenty groups of students were involved in the research.


Our project focused on the development of an in-house training course based on the key pedagogical teaching and learning principles of ESOL delivery. We developed a structure for our course, which originally focused on nine key aspects of language teaching:

  • Foreign language lesson
  • Lesson planning
  • ESOL lesson formats, (please see The British Council website for further information e.g., Presentation, Production and Practice (PPP), discovery approach, Test, Teach, Test (TTT)).
  • Grammar and vocabulary lessons
  • Clarifying and checking meaning
  • Classroom interaction patterns
  • Elicitation
  • Feedback
  • Effective reinforcement for motivation.

Through collaborative discussion and reflection, we refined and combined key techniques to develop our final course structure of five key sessions (see Appendix 3 for further details):

  • Project launch/Foreign Language lesson
  • Planning/lesson format and context setting
  • Teaching grammar
  • Teaching vocabulary
  • Elicitation, feedback, and motivational techniques.

Originally, we planned for our delivery to be over ten weeks with a week of implementation and reflection between each session. We had also planned for all sessions to be face to face although this changed as the project evolved and some sessions were delivered via zoom.

Teacher reflection was a key factor in our research model and was incorporated into taught sessions and implementation weeks. We decided not to be prescriptive on the method of reflection that teachers should take and as a result we had greater participation in reflection.

Outcomes and Impact

To an extent we met our objectives but not necessarily in the way that we had identified at the beginning of the project. As an organisation we had clearly identified what we wanted to develop, how we planned to do it and the impact we expected as a result. However, the very nature of action research meant it was not as straightforward as this and we ended up learning even more than we expected, as much from what did not work as well as from what did.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Teachers engaged with the language lesson (Appendix 4) and enjoyed it much more than we could have thought possible when planning the sessions. They all identified feelings of uneasiness, vulnerability, being engaged but uncomfortable, feeling confused but also interested during the twenty-minute language lesson. Teachers fed back that they valued this insight as some had forgotten what it could be like for students when learning. They all said they would consider this when planning. In terms of strategies used to engage and understand the language lesson, teachers stated asking questions/valuing repetition, mentally repeating sentences and teacher body language and gestures. They all reflected on the importance of these, and that the activity served as a reminder when planning to think about the smaller things and how these support students. In terms of changes to teaching the following was identified: activities to support repetition for students; strategies to support student perseverance as well as valuing and praising student perseverance; scaffolding activities; greater use of sentence starters; increasing feedback and positive reinforcement within lessons; linking first language to English for vocabulary; sentence structure and adding more images to help students visualise what they are reading.

Organisational Development

Organisationally, we had identified what we felt could support key improvements and wanted to support teachers to explore this aspect. As a management team, we wanted teachers to lead the project but, for various reasons outside of our control, the lead role kept coming back to managers. As an organisation, we felt that this may hinder exploration and engagement with the project, but that was not the case. The project provided managers with a clearer understanding of the internal battle some teachers have in terms of their ideas on how teaching and learning should be, and that changing or developing teaching from teacher centred to student centred is not always straightforward. Understanding this and supporting teachers to unpick this aspect is important to them being able to reflect on and implement changes. This was one of the key learning aspects of the project and has influenced next steps.

Learning from this project

The concept of delivering a course to teachers to enable exploration and implementation into lessons was overall an effective concept. However, the approach for the course was not as effective as we had first planned. Timing of the project and staffing shortages due to Covid-19 impacted our original plan of a ten-week delivery. We planned to deliver the whole course face to face. However, because we wanted all staff to participate across all sites, some sessions ended up being delivered online. The language lesson was delivered face to face whereas the sessions on lesson format and grammar were remote online sessions Therefore, we need to consider whether the language session went well because it was face to face or a more neutral lesson that all teachers could engage with. We realised that in order for teachers to fully embrace an approach they had to experience the modelling of it. Remote delivery at times hindered TTT or discovery model and made it feel more PPP, thus reinforcing the delivery we were trying to move away from.

We also realised that changing approaches to delivery is not always straightforward and teachers need time to unpick their views of the way they think teaching and learning should happen as well as have more time to reflect and implement methods. We had an expectation the teachers in the group would embrace, implement, and develop teaching learning and assessment activities at the same rate as a result of the course, which was unrealistic. Some teachers thrived within the sessions; they had ‘lightbulb moments’, were open to implementing and trialling new approaches and were not put off if they did not work first time. However other teachers struggled to see how the concepts could be applied and needed more scaffolding of activities to identify changes. Some teachers also had reservations around the timing of the course with exams looming and struggled with balancing experimentation with supporting students to cover what was needed for exams.

Moving forward, we plan to complement these structured language sessions with a lesson study approach (EEF 2020 and see also Appendix 6). Encouraging further collaboration through the joint planning, delivery, and observation. Our next steps are to revisit the sessions and use the Lesson Study model within the summer term as we can then link this to adapting schemes of work.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    We had always planned to facilitate a collaboration and sharing of expertise between ESOL, and GCSE/FS teachers and the action research project provided dedicated time to explore key language pedagogy. The project enabled teachers from different departments and with differing lengths of service and experience to build positive relationships with peers, have professional discussions and explore key ideas and approaches to improve teaching and learning. This aspect we felt was a key success of the project and something we plan to continue to support teachers to do (see Appendix 5 for further details).

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    For the teacher who delivered the Korean language lesson, the experience of delivering to peers enabled them to reflect on the reading aspect of GCSE delivery and the value of pre-teaching vocabulary for ESOL or EHCP students. The teacher decided to implement a Quizizz task initially midway through a session, but this was not so effective as students were then distracted by their phones. The teacher tried it again but as a starter prior to the reading task and this worked well. The lesson was much smoother, and they felt it added more diversity to the classroom and teaching environment. Students enjoyed the classes and liked being able to use their phones to do the quiz, and one student said they liked competing against the class. Others valued finding a definition or an image to help visualise the word.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    Some teachers initially had reservations about the concept and felt their experiences as an ESOL and/or GCSE English teacher highlighted pedagogical challenges. Some teachers also felt that they needed to consider and evaluate their view that a teacher had a responsibility to teach. Therefore, they felt that in their own reflection and implementation they needed to bridge the divide between responsive teaching, learning and assessment and their current practices in the post-16 GCSE delivery and explore how to balance the two to optimise students’ learning.

    Following the language session, these teachers applied more pair work and small group activities into lessons. Following implementation, teachers could see the benefits with activities less teacher-centred and more student focused. These changes to delivery allowed more time to check the students’ work. This in turn seemed to increase the students’ levels of self-confidence as they had already received one to one feedback prior to whole class feedback (see Appendix 5 for further details).


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Language Course Structure

Appendix 4: Language Lesson

Appendix 5: Teacher Reflections

Appendix 6: The Lesson Study Model

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


The British Council (no date). ‘Guided Discovery’. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

The British Council (no date). ‘PPP’. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

The British Council (no date). ‘Teach, Teach, Test’. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

The Department for Education and Skills (2005). ‘Department for Education and Skills
Departmental Report 2005’. Available at: [Accessed 23.3.22].

The Education Endowment Foundation (2022). ‘Lesson Study’. Available at: [Accessed 23.3.22].

The Teacher Development Trust. 2022. ‘What is Lesson Study?’ Available at: [Accessed 23.3.22].


Introducing participatory ESOL approaches into volunteer-led, informal ESOL settings


This project aimed to combine an understanding of adult learning theory with the use of participatory tools and techniques in community based English conversation groups run by SAVTE Language Volunteers. The project aimed to identify an effective approach for the introduction of participatory approaches in informal, volunteer-led ESOL settings.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The project aimed to enable volunteer ESOL teachers to facilitate participatory, localised ESOL speaking and listening activities in SAVTE conversation groups. The aim of introducing participatory approaches was to both change the role of a volunteer from that of ‘teacher’ who may sit apart from learning being experienced in the room, and to expand the experience of conversation groups for learners, into a more collaborative and experiential experience with direct relevance to issues and changes in their own lives. For further information on the relationship between adult learning theories and participatory ESOL, please see Appendix 3: Participatory ESOL and links to Adult Learning Theories.

The action research focused on the activities of SAVTE ESOL conversation group volunteers in Sheffield. Sixteen volunteers were involved in the initial stages of the project, representing ten different community-based conversation groups (many of which were running online at the time).

SAVTE conversation groups are volunteer led, meaning that trained volunteers, often working in pairs, plan and facilitate sessions to meet the interests and needs of adult learners in their groups. Volunteers are trained in informal methods for identifying language topics to explore in groups, how to exploit the opportunities for speaking and listening skills development within sessions and how to balance participation within groups as well as maintaining a safe, accessible learning environment.

Participatory ESOL approaches would not necessarily be a new idea or facilitation method to all volunteers, but this project aimed to introduce a session methodology and toolkit that could be used by all volunteers whether experienced educationalists or new to teaching.

Expected outcomes included:

  1. use of participatory approaches by volunteers to guide their groups of learners through the exploration of local issues, relevant to the lives of learners in the group
  2. increased ‘ownership’ of conversation group activities, focus and outcomes by learners within the group through their participation in the selection of topics for discussion and direction of focus, progression and outcomes, with volunteers stepping back to a more limited role of guide for activities
  3. increased community-engagement of learners in locally relevant issues through the collaborative analysis of issues and development of plans for collective action.


The screenshot below shows an overview of each stage of our action research project:

a flowchart illustrating the stages of the project

The initial stages of the project followed expectations; however, following feedback it became apparent that implementation of participatory approaches by volunteers would need to be supported in more depth than originally anticipated. In addition, it was decided to focus on a smaller selection of conversation groups. It became apparent that two groups in particular would provide an interesting research focus.

These two groups were chosen for a couple of reasons:

  • Both groups are running in an area in Sheffield subject to redevelopment and several learners were in the process of discovering how that would impact their homes and neighbourhood, in particular whether their houses were due to be demolished.
  • Both groups are run by volunteers who were keen to engage with this local situation and to support the groups’ participants to both understand the impact of the planned changes and have their views represented in the local council consultation.

Volunteers were supported by members of the research team to deliver participatory sessions, which followed a similar format to methods described by Bryers (2015) and The Learning and Work Institute (2017).

The table below describes the process we followed during our action research project. Some images that were generated during the participatory sessions are also shared:

  • Input
  • Visual inputs to the session as conversation starters and visual prompts to generate prior-known vocabulary, in this case, relating to the local neighbourhood – photos of housing (old & new), green spaces, roads, public transport, litter. Shops. Facilities and local Councillors (Image A).
  • Facilitated discussion
  • To capture the range of views and experiences and identify a specific subject familiar to all, that participants want to explore further as a group.
  • Problem analysis
  • A problem tree diagram (Image B) was used in both sessions to analyse an issue in greater depth. Identifying a problem or issue specifically, identifying the impact of this issue (Image C) for participants in the group, the possible causes (Image D) and then moving discussion onto exploring solutions or action that is needed.
  • Outputs
  • Recording ideas and identifying next steps that the group can either take themselves or plan to put in place to make improvements, either directly or by raising awareness and making their voices heard and their views represented.

images showing the local neighbourhood and a problem tree diagram in use (with post its)

Image A: Our neighbourhood and Image B: Problem tree diagram

close ups of the problem tree including causes at the roots and impacts in the canopy

Image C: impacts and Image D: causes

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Evaluation discussions with volunteers who participated in the sessions focused on two areas of the activity:

Supported volunteering – Several volunteers raised the need for additional support to carry out participatory sessions with their group. Suggestions included watching a session in full being ‘modelled’ by a staff member, having access to pre-prepared materials, for example, picture packs of visual prompts, pre-prepared flip charts for problem analysis and a simple session plan. These comments gave useful suggestions for the next stages of this project.

Topic relevance – All volunteers described the importance of ‘knowing what is familiar to everyone’ and finding a topic that is ‘relevant to all’ that ‘gives everyone an equal voice’ and acknowledges ‘everyone is starting in the same place’. These are valuable comments that give weight to the importance of careful planning to ensure familiar and universally relevant visual prompts for participants in a specific group are used. It highlights the important role of volunteers in building rapport with participants in their group. Being familiar with the lives and experiences of everyone is vital to achieve a genuinely participatory session.

Observations of the group sessions identified other important aspects of the research focus.

Language levels – Conversation groups use speaking and listening skills primarily in all their activities. Participatory approaches can be wholly speaking and listening based, but giving learners the opportunity to make their contributions and see these reflected visually on a flip chart or diagram requires them to be able to write comments or be comfortable with other participants scribing for them in a way that evidences their input accurately.

Observations of two different groups with differing levels of language (see group profiles, Appendix 4) evidenced that speaking and listening skills from Entry Level 3 and above provided a strong basis for topics to be explored in depth in English. Observations also highlighted the importance of this minimum level being common throughout the group, especially if there is no shared language within the group that can be used to support the understanding of participants with lower levels of speaking and listening skill.

Role of volunteers – Observing volunteers with their group highlighted the invaluable range of experience and expertise they bring to the sessions. In both sessions, the volunteers contributed their own experiences and knowledge to the discussions. This was a major contributing factor to the ‘success’ of each session – i.e. enabling the participants to reach a conclusion where they identified their next steps and agreed a plan of action to take the subject forward. As such, volunteers that bring a shared lived experience to the group can be viewed equally as participants in a group alongside the ESOL learners (Appendix 6). For example, volunteers who live in the same local area as learners will have a similar lived experience of local transport, facilities and services, schools and in some cases housing.

The impact of everyone participating in the session being an equal ‘expert by lived experience’ was observed as a key success factor to effectiveness of the session. In terms of the depth of discussion, the genuine relevance and importance of the content influenced the action planning that resulted.

In addition to learners supporting each other with suggestions to resolve particular issues, locally based volunteers were able to share locally relevant information about the changes to housing being proposed, how to contact local councillors, what a Tenants and Residents Association (TARA) is for, how it can be contacted and how local tenants can get involved in influencing improvements. In group 1, there were learners who became aware that their homes were planned to be demolished and who then planned how they would input to the consultation on this. In group 2, all learners were previously unaware of their TARA and as a result of the session planned to invite the TARA representative to their group.

Organisational Development

This OTLA 8 action research project has highlighted the important role that Language Volunteers, with a degree of lived experience shared with the ESOL learners they support, play.

As an organisation, this emphasises the importance of reaching and engaging potential volunteers within the same communities as the ESOL learners who participate in SAVTE activities. These communities may be a local area or neighbourhood, or similarly a shared lived experience of migration, asylum or resettlement in the UK (see Appendix 5, Locally based steps into language volunteering).

This finding gives direction to SAVTE’s organisational aim of widening participation in volunteering and overcoming any barriers to volunteering that individuals may face, particularly those from under-represented communities in terms of locality or experiences of migration.

Learning from this project

There were several features relating to the groups and participants involved in this project that were critical to its success.

Firstly, the identification of groups where there was a ‘hot topic’ immediately relevant to participants’ lives, both learners and volunteers, and that was equally important to them. This provided motivation in both groups to engage with different activities and approaches as the subject was significant for everyone involved.

Secondly, the willingness and enthusiasm of volunteers to be involved and try something new. This engagement was, again, aided by the fact that they themselves were connected to and interested in the subject of the sessions.

More time is needed to trial this approach with a wider number of groups, in different localities and looking at a wider range of issues. Future research activities should also aim to evaluate the impact of the experience for learners in conversation groups.

Identifying methods to achieve equitable involvement in sessions amongst participants with differing levels of literacy would also be a useful contribution.

To date, published participatory learning guides and articles focus on use of participatory approaches by experienced, often qualified teachers in ESOL classes where reading and writing skills are also being developed. This research activity offers a new insight into the use of these approaches by trained volunteers in informal, community based, conversation group ESOL settings and, as such, provides a new contribution to the field of ESOL volunteer recruitment, training and support, which can be built on to introduce improvements to the sector and new experiences for all participants.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    This project has used collaborative learning methods, which meet the needs of learners with ‘spiky profiles’ – those with lower literacy levels are still able to fully participate.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    This project activity has demonstrated the ‘bridging’ role of a participatory activity where everyone in the room is a genuine participant with shared experience of the topic being explored. As such it offers an approach to overcome traditional perceptions of where ‘power’ lies in a classroom, as all participants can contribute and collaborate equally.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence.

    This project builds on theories of adult learning which highlight the importance of using immediately relevant subject matter which is of importance to the adult participants to maximise engagement and reflection.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Participatory ESOL and links to Adult Learning Theories

Appendix 4: Group Profiles

Appendix 5: Locally Based Steps into Language Volunteering


Bryers, D., (2015). ‘Participatory ESOL’ Language Issues 26.2 p.55.

Learning and Work Institute, (2017). Citizens’ Curriculum Activity Pack for Participatory Learning. Available at: [accessed 8.6.22].

Tusting, K., and Barton, D., (2003). Models of adult learning: a literature review. London: NRDC (National Research and Development Centre for Adult Literacy and Numeracy).

Freire, P., (1972). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books

Auerbach, E. R., (1992) Making Meaning, Making Change: Participatory Curriculum Development for Adult ESL Literacy. Center for Applied Linguistics/ERIC.

9a. New College Durham

Improving writing for ESOL students stuck at Entry Level 3

New College Durham

This project aimed to help students who were having difficulty progressing from Entry Level 3 (E3) to Level 1 (L1) due to weaker writing skills. We trialled different strategies to develop writing and liaised with Functional Skills (FS) tutors. We learnt having an intense focus on writing skills benefits overall language learning and confidence.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Learners and tutors working togetherWe have a number of students who have plateaued at E3, hindering progress with the language they need in daily life. We sought to find ways to break down this barrier and empower them to be better writers, using a focus on writing systems. Initially, we focussed on how feedback informs writing, but after some interesting reading on a project working with children who struggle to read (Walter, Dockrell and Connelly, 2021) we broadened the scope to consider interventions at text, sentence and word level.

Other Contextual Information

working collaboratively during the projectTwo ESOL tutors carried out research with one ESOL group each: the first was a group of students living in the UK for some time with highly effective verbal communication skills but weaker literacy skills and less accurate grammar (the literacy group); the second was a mixed group of ESOL students with a more EFL profile, many of whom hold professional qualifications from their own countries (mainstream ESOL). We liaised with tutors from the FS English team, and a key outcome from this was being able to recruit a mentor for each group: an adult FS student and a sixth form student.


Here you can see the stages of our action research, as we explored how we can develop our practice in supporting Entry Level 3 students with their writing skills. At each stage of our research, the two ESOL tutors worked closely together, as well as with the FS English team. See Appendices 3b-d for examples of changes to our practice, and examples of student work.

a screenshot of a flowchart showing the approach the project team took

The classes followed different approaches which provided us with opportunities for interesting professional discussion, as well as the chance to learn from each other whilst doing our research. The reason for this difference was to look at a range of strategies. Each tutor chose to do what they felt more comfortable with. This diagram shows the divergence of approach.

flowcharts showing the different process of a approaches the literacy and mainstream ESOL classes took

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Increased focus on writing has borne fruit in following areas:

  • Better writing skills. We found that writing was better planned and more coherent across both groups. There were noticeable improvements in the grammar and spelling of the students in the literacy group as can be seen by the examples below from early on in the course, and the February test.

Start of the year:

example of student writing at the start of the year


example of student writing in February

  • Better understanding and more accurate use of grammar in both spoken and written work (see Appendix 2 and example above)
  • Increased confidence. Students have reported that they feel more confident since starting the course. This manifests itself in them taking the opportunity to speak to other students across college during college events, and seeking out opportunities to communicate with others.
  • Students achieving goals outside college. Two of the students from the literacy class have found employment during the course. One stated that she would not have had the confidence to fill in the application form before starting the course.
  • Improvements in learner performance. It is interesting that both approaches saw improvements in learner performance, although it is not possible to state categorically that one was more successful than the other.

Organisational Development

Organisational developments included:

  • Increased awareness across student body (mentors) of what ESOL is and who the students are.
  • Increased working across departments (ESOL and FS). Staff and students are now more likely to work together.
  • Future training for FS staff from ESOL staff. The curriculum manager for ESOL has been asked to work with FS tutors in the future to better support those working with non-native speakers and the language difficulties they may have.

Learning from this project

We learnt that there are no quick fixes to an entrenched problem such as poor writing skills. At the mid-way point, following progress tests, we were feeling disheartened that we could not see the big gains we had hoped for. But after speaking to the students, we realised that some of the gains were not visible in their writing as such, but those detailed above (confidence, communication, etc).

Following on from that, we learnt to temper our own expectations, and recognise that even small steps forward can represent big gains. The fact that one student felt able to even fill in an application form, a task she had avoided for some time such was her reluctance to write, represents a huge step forward.

We also realised that teaching one skill in isolation is actually not possible. By focussing on writing, we were bringing in more focus on grammar, spelling, sentence structure, etc, all of which benefit language skills overall.

Finally, language improvement brings all sorts of benefits with it, including in the ‘soft skills’ of confidence and resilience.

We worked with the FS team and feel we all benefited from it. However, it would have been even better had they not been going through structural change at the same time, and therefore not able to devote as much time as hoped for to the project. Similarly, the stress of persistent and prolonged staff absence due to COVID-19 put a huge strain on the project lead who was not able to spend as much time as planned on the project at certain times.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Our project gave us permission to focus more on writing skills, and by doing so, we were able to break down the barrier of fear that holds so many back from writing regularly. We were able to give students the space they needed to understand what was required of them and to plan thoroughly for the task ahead.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Our project enabled us to work with colleagues from the FS English team, to draw on their knowledge and share ideas across both teams. It has led to a closer working relationship going forward, where we will be sharing tips on working with non-native speakers.

  • 14. Plan and deliver effective learning programmes for diverse groups or individuals in a safe and inclusive environment.

    We emphasised to students at the start of the year that there were no assumptions about what they knew, and this helped them to go back to the basics of understanding what different parts of speech we have and how they fit together. The students in the literacy class in particular have been so supportive of one another, as they recognise that this is a journey they must all make, even though they have different starting points.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Additional Information and resources

Research Poster

This project also produced a poster for display at the NATECLA National Conference 2022. You can view the poster below and access a PDF copy via the curated exhibition Wakelet.


Walter, K., Dockrell, J., Connelly, V. (2021) A sentence-combining intervention for struggling writers: response to intervention Available at: (Accessed 12th December 2021).

7c. Reaseheath College

Developing High Level Vocabulary

Reaseheath College

The project intended to extend learners’ vocabulary enabling them to achieve in both English and their main subject area. Learners were introduced to high-value vocabulary with a range of strategies being used to aid their understanding and confidence in using the new vocabulary. English and vocational teachers worked together to reinforce and embed learning.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Our project extends our previous research from OTLA 7 (ETF, 2021), which found we underestimated how ‘word poor’ our learners were; conversely, learners overestimate their knowledge of words and meanings. This issue continues to exist as in English lessons learners are introduced to often indecipherable vocabulary frequently leading to disengagement and inappropriate behaviour. We worked with learners to improve and enrich their vocabularies, enabling them to achieve a grade 4 in GCSE English Language. Our further aim was to ensure learners recognise the value of good English skills in supporting them to achieve in their subject specialism. To enable this, we worked with vocational lecturers encouraging them to embed vocabulary-based activities into their lessons.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. Our college is situated in Nantwich, Cheshire East. Some learners originate from relatively disadvantaged areas and lack access to books, learning materials and technologies. Our Case Studies were specifically selected from a Foundation group; however, we also worked with other groups of learners, from Animal Management and Mathematics, in which there is a variety of academic abilities.

The Foundation group includes a wide variety of capabilities, with a significant proportion of learners hindered by barriers to learning. Since our objective was to encourage active use of new vocabulary, rather than receiving it passively, we were curious about what impact our research project would have on the group in which there is an explicit dichotomy.


We conducted our research cyclically, reflecting on the impact of activities and gaining feedback from team members and learners (see Appendix 4 and Appendix 6). This enabled us to evaluate the impact of our work and make any amendments necessary.
We created ‘initial assessments’ (Appendix 5.1) to establish which words learners knew. Maths and Vocational staff (Animal Management) were involved in distributing the ‘Words of the Week’, so learners could understand language is applicable across all spectra of learning, not just English.

  • Activity 1 (Two Tasks): Word Search and Synonyms: In Task 1, learners were given a word search, in which there were twenty words: ten high-register, low-frequency words; and ten synonyms for each of the high-register words. For Task 2, learners were asked to match the words (see Appendix 5.2).
  • Activity 2: (Three Tasks): Learners were asked to rate how confident they felt using each of the ten words in a sentence. Next, they wrote down what they thought was the correct definition of the words, integrating each of the ten words into a sentence, so we could evaluate if they were being used correctly.
one of the oracy posters developed for the project

An example of one of our posters, developed after speaking with learners.

Afterwards, we integrated each of the keywords into our lessons as starter tasks. PowerPoint slides were specifically designed to suit the course areas we shared the keywords with; we wanted to ensure each of the keywords was relatable to the course areas and address any potential resistance or hesitancy to the teaching and learning of each key word.

As a result of learner interviews (Appendix 4), our approach altered slightly as we decided to focus more on oracy. We discovered some learners preferred to read out their work to see whether they used keywords correctly rather than writing them down. Some learners preferred to hear the new keywords spoken in context rather than seeing them in sentences on a PowerPoint presentation. We, therefore, produced an audio recording for each word in which it was spoken aloud, followed by its definition with an example of its use in a sentence (Appendix 5.3). Learners could then scan the QR code and listen to it at their leisure.

Below is an extract from one of our learner interviews, evidencing how we were able to adapt our approaches in response to learner need as the project progressed:

Learner A: “I think it would be nice if we could read out our work at the end of a lesson.
Interviewer: “So, do you think it’s a better idea then to hear the keywords spoken instead of writing them?”
Learner A: “Yeah, pretty much.”
Interviewer: “And – why is that?”
Learner A: “It’s just easier to see if we have used it right in our work.”

Learners were also given bookmarks with the keywords. (Appendix 5.4, for example).

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

One significant impact is learners’ autonomous reaction to the words of the week. Originally, a significant proportion of learners indicated their attitude towards vocabulary development by expressions of boredom, lethargy and disinterest; however, as we introduced the final few words, learners displayed no negative reaction, beginning to integrate some of the words into their work more frequently than others (Appendix 3). What was a very positive thing to see was that some learners even used a small variety of keywords in answers to their mock exam papers. (See, in the example below, how a learner attempted to use curious and immense in the correct context).

photo of learners work (and teacher markings) where they are experimening with new vocabulary

After interviewing learners again towards the end of the project, it was interesting to note the impact that the oracy posters had.

Interviewer: “So, we spoke about the bookmarks last time, and one of you mentioned how it would be more effective to listen to the keywords instead of writing them down from off the board. Have you both found this to be the case?”
Learner B: “Not particularly. I sometimes feel if you tried to scan the QR code in a lesson and it took ages to load, you might get distracted by your phone.”
Interviewer: “Ok, that’s interesting. What about you, [Learner A]?
Learner A: “Yeah, because talking will obviously mean you can use the word more, so there’s more chance you will use it right.”
Interviewer: “So, do you mean more chance of using it in the correct context?”
Learner A: “Yeah, so you’ll understand it more.”

Additionally, we have seen a positive change in vocational and maths staff’s attitudes. Some members of staff were initially a little reluctant to integrate these words into their lessons, either because they thought English was not a priority, failed to recognise the relevance of English in their lessons, or lacked the confidence to introduce literacy activities. However, after becoming involved in the project and realising the value of supporting vocabulary development their attitude has changed to a more welcoming one.

One thing we were significantly pleased with was the progress demonstrated in our Case Studies learners’ “initial assessment” activities when completed the second time around. (Appendix 2). At the beginning of the project Learner A firmly believed they had no confidence in using 40% of the keywords and complete confidence in using 60% of the keywords. However, some of the definitions of the keywords were quite vague, and some were incorrect, for example, the words curious and defiant despite the learner saying they had full confidence in using the words. In the “initial assessment” completed by Learner A at the end of the project, there was a clear, significant difference in the learner’s confidence rating in comparison with the first time around: the learner felt 100% confidence in their ability to use the keywords in a sentence. As one can also see, all words had their definitions filled in by Learner A, and the meanings were far more accurate than the first time Learner A attempted the assessment.

In the “initial assessment” completed by Learner B they had 40% high confidence in using the keywords, 50% a little confidence and 10% minor confidence. Some of the definitions written were a little vague, such as the one for “majestic”; however, the majority of what is written is relatively accurate. In the “initial assessment” completed by Learner B at the end of the project, the difference between their confidence in using each keyword in a sentence is quite substantial. The learner now feels very confident using 70% of the keywords, mostly confident using 20% of the keywords and moderately confident using 10% of the keywords. Notice how some definitions the learner had written had become more accurate and precise. “Majestic” has a far more crystalline definition than the one thought of for the “Initial Assessment” at the beginning of the project.

Organisational Development

As stated earlier in the report, in addition to the maths department, with whom we were already in close contact, we linked with Animal Management, the biggest vocational area on campus. Our collaborative relationship is evident through their willing participation in the project, distributing the keywords (or Words of the Week) to their learners, and the Cross College English meetings the English team delivered for them. Organisational development has also arisen throughout the English department with learning that Animal Management have a Word of the Week activity, too; however, the learners’ interaction with it is different: it is predicated on them finding the definition of the word before putting it into a sentence and using it in their theoretical work for that session. (See evidence below from Animal Management SoW).

Extract from animal management scheme of work

Learning from this project

vocabulary bookmark entitled 'word up' with a list of words and the Reaseheath College logo at the bottom

Our vocabulary bookmark

What went well:

  • Learners thought that the bookmark has been incredibly useful.
  • The oracy posters were used later in the project’s timeline, and learners found them a very effective tool to quickly access the keywords. In addition, the novelty of the keyword posters also made a positive, even comedic, impact as it piqued learners’ curiosity: “Wait, is that [name anonymised] from English? That’s actually a really good idea having those as sound recordings!”
  • It is evident learners started to use the keywords in their work without prompting from the project bookmark. In the Case Studies examples the learners used a few of the keywords from the bookmark in the correct context: extraordinary, curious and vulnerable.
  • Other examples of how learners, outside of the Case Studies, also integrated some of the OTLA keywords into their own writings are shown in Appendix 6.
  • As demonstrated by the Animal Management department other curriculum areas started introducing Words of the Week into their Schemes of Work, too – something these practitioners spoke openly about in one of the CPD sessions hosted by the English team as part of our college’s “Cross College CPD”.

Even better if:

  • In future, ensuring there is consistency throughout the department: all lecturers using the same Words of the Week, even in maths and vocational areas.
  • Lecturers endeavouring to use each word of the week verbally, so learners can hear, on numerous occasions, the keywords in context which would aid them to transfer new words into “active” vocabulary instead of “passive”.
  • Officially document moments of Learner Voice more precisely, so the evolution of the project can be far smoother and tailored to the most recent feelings of the learners.
  • Ensuring that a far greater volume of learners are actively listening to the recordings from the QR codes and, perhaps, officially formalising a sophisticated method of recording participation data which we can use to inform us of the most effective way to deliver new “high-register, low-frequency” vocabulary to future years’ learners.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    The project has certainly reinforced the need for us to reflect and meditate on our preconceptions about learners’ levels of vocabulary despite their age, and the necessity of constantly exposing learners to new vocabulary because a wide vocabulary is so important when it comes to attaining marks indicative of Grade 4 or above in GCSE examinations. It has certainly thrown into sharp relief how learners engage with new vocabulary, too, in addition to how effective oracy can be when it comes to rendering new, high-register, low-frequency vocabulary as ‘active’ as opposed to ‘passive’.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    In addition to developing the vocabulary of our learners, which will certainly contribute to their progression in question 5 on Paper 1, we have changed some of our learners’ perspectives on the importance of English and language itself. Learners feel a sense of empowerment and satisfaction from the utilisation of the keywords we have delivered to them throughout the course of the project. For example, one Learner said the following:

    Using these keywords feels cool as it makes me sound intelligent.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Since working closely with colleagues from Animal Management, we have learned a significant amount about how their course is constructed, what areas of study the learners undertake at the three levels, what is evaluated when learners compose their responses and how Animal Management also integrate their own Words of the Week in lessons, too.

7b. Darlington College

Development of IT skills within the ESOL classroom

Darlington College

This project centred on developing IT skills among low-level ESOL students enabling them to access aspects of IT to enhance their learning.

Full time ESOL students were taught IT skills which they cascaded to other ESOL students. We intended to build a ‘community of practice’ where students could actively participate, learning from and supporting each other’s development (Vygotsky,1978; Lave and Wenger, 1991).

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Embedding IT skills in the ESOL classroom is very beneficial (One Stop English, date unknown; ETF, 2021). Lack of IT knowledge and skills presents barriers for many of our ESOL students. Lockdown further exposed the lack of IT skills with ESOL students unable to access online learning, resulting in several students being unable to complete their courses, hindering their progression in English. Additionally, some students struggled to understand and follow tutor instructions. To support our students, we developed a project where full-time ESOL students passed on their IT skills to those in the adult pre-entry and entry one classes.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place at Darlington College, a medium sized general further education college in the North East of England. The college provides a wide range of courses and has a thriving ESOL Department with four permanent and three temporary staff. The classes range from part-time pre-entry to Level 2 (English and maths) classes, as well as a full-time programme for the 16-18-year-olds.

We worked with two groups of students: full-time 16-18 and pre-entry and Level 1 ESOL.


We adopted an action planning process, involving the following stages:

Planning Stage:

  • After initial team meetings at the beginning of the project, we recognised full-time ESOL students lacked confidence in their IT and communication skills and so we needed to build up their skills and confidence.
  • Students were invited to be part of the project and informed what it would involve. Although initially apprehensive, they were reassured they would be supported, guided and given time to prepare by the IT tutor.
  • We discussed and agreed topics they would prepare and how they could present them to their peers. The following topics were chosen: turning the computer on and off, accessing Google Chat and using Google Meet. Students would present using PowerPoint.

How the planning was put into practice:

  • A chronological order of lessons was decided by the students.
  • The project lead liaised with the IT tutor ensuring time was secured for the delivery of the lessons.
  • Once they were prepared and confident, full-time students delivered to the pre-entry class with the support of the IT tutor.


  • Both full-time and pre-entry students were given reflection activities (Exit Tickets) to complete. These were adapted to the level of the students to gain insights into the effectiveness of the presentations.
  • The tutors met to ascertain what went well and what could be improved going forward. The feedback was mainly positive; however, it was felt the full-time students should be better prepared for the next round. They needed to be confident about the topic, prepare more informative slides and avoid simply reading from them to enable them to connect more effectively with the group being taught.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

By the end of the sessions, the pre-entry students could turn a Chromebook off and on. They could also access Google chat which greatly increased their confidence.

The full-time students gained confidence in their ability to communicate as well as improving their IT skills. The experience has ensured their learning experiences have been broadened, made more interesting and engaging and relevant to the ‘real’ world. CN for example, told me he felt “delighted” (his favourite adjective!) after his teaching experience. He told me it had helped his pronunciation (an area he needed to develop).

Furthermore, the skill of ‘risk-taking’ was evident and students could see that mistakes are to learn from. Self-management was also developed, students were empowered and encouraged to use their initiative and autonomy. AH felt very uneasy during the presentation because he had not prepared well. He recognised that but kept going. He completed the lesson but felt he could do better and asked if he could take another in the future so he could improve.

In addition, communication skills were developed resulting in increased confidence when speaking to others, particularly to those they did not know. This is a life skill that will help students in their future job search or progression to higher levels of study. For example, MG stated he was very nervous and found it difficult but has since presented in other classes and said he felt much better.

The pre-entry students benefited from being taught by students who could empathise with exit ticket example with smiley facestheir difficulty in understanding the English language. In addition, they learned skills which will enable them to access learning online. See exit ticket example to the right.

They also were exposed to technology which will be built on to support them in learning English through different channels. This will lead to improvements in confidence which will empower students to integrate more into society.

The ESOL team also benefitted, and learned from, a student-led approach. For some this was a new approach and ‘letting go’ was a concept not always easy to adopt. Having seen the benefits, it is hoped this will become a consistent approach within the ESOL classroom. For example, two members of the team stated they thought the project was a new and exciting idea, whilst one teacher, whose class was taught by the 16-19 years old, stated her students really enjoyed the sessions and learned some basic IT skills following the experience and she is keen to repeat the activity. In addition, it is hoped the collaboration across the team will also be embedded into the wider curriculum.

On my part, I learned to cascade knowledge gained from teaching an International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum in a creative manner. This involved sharing good practice around skills development as opposed to just supporting language development.
There was a great deal of emphasis on collaboration within this project. This came to fruition via students from a variety of backgrounds, experiences and languages, working together. Tutors also collaborated much more than previously.

Organisational Development

The project created an opportunity for staff from different curriculum areas to meet, share ideas and teaching and learning and assessment approaches. In the busy world of FE, these opportunities do not occur as frequently as we would like. It was, therefore, fortuitous to have the privilege to work so closely with colleagues. Working on the project additionally helped to raise the profile of the ESOL department. For example, more regular and productive meetings with managers, more colleagues involved and more recently, the introduction of peer teaching into maths sessions.

Attending the Tees Valley English and Maths conference gave us the opportunity to share our work with other centres in the area. The chair of this meeting said she would share all I had imparted in a document which would be cascaded to all participants. This raised the profile of the project and our team whilst enabling us to get useful feedback from other ESOL practitioners. In addition, the project was shared at the Bell Foundation meeting where it was met with enthusiasm and interest.

Learning from this project

What went well:

All those involved found the project to be both a rewarding and positive experience. After some initial trepidation, people readily joined in and did their very best to ensure the project was a success. Feedback was extremely positive and the majority of those involved would like the activities to continue. One of the most pleasing aspects is seeing students grow in confidence and begin to take responsibility for their own learning. This student-led approach to teaching and learning has informed the ESOL team and demonstrated an approach that can be deployed elsewhere in the college. For example, this practice is currently being used within maths sessions. CN and MA (the higher-level maths students) are teaching the Entry 2/3 group for the last two session of the academic year. Because of their previous experience, they “jumped” at the opportunity and according to their IT teacher, are developing some wonderful resources.

Even better if:

The full-time students had been better prepared for their lessons. Several of them were a little shocked at the reality of teaching and one even asked if he could do it again because he felt he did not deliver well which shows his commitment to the project.

The tutors were also taken by surprise, and we all agreed that we had overestimated the ability and confidence of the students. Based on this, more support was given to ensure the students were better prepared.

The full-time students need to practise more, ensuring they know the topic well prior to delivering topics. They also need to understand the importance of communicating clearly and ensuring their presentations are ‘lessons’ and not simple modes of displaying a collection of information.

All colleagues need to be on board. One was reluctant from the outset. This colleague teaches the higher groups so did not participate in the project although she was party to all the meetings and many of the discussions surrounding it. Without doubt she was very interested in knowing how the project progressed and expressed her pleasure at its success.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of students.

    The approaches used were new to many of the team who initially struggled with students having control of the learning. Through meeting regularly, gathering feedback from students, and discussing progress with them, we were able to constructively and honestly reflect on what worked best in our teaching and support each other to make improvements. Regular reflection enabled us to appreciate the benefits of the approach used, enhancing our teaching practice whilst additionally encouraging effective relationships with each other and our students.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and students

    The project’s success hinged on effective collaboration on many different levels. Initially, full-time students and teachers worked together to decide on topic delivery, needing to build up trust and confidence in each other. In classroom teaching sessions students increasingly relied on each other to help with communication and the execution of practical activities. Collaboration was further needed to provide honest feedback on activities so their usefulness could be effectively assessed and any improvements made.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    This project developed IT skills for ESOL students who struggled with the concept. Being taught by other ESOL students helped to lessen language barriers enabling them to express their difficulties more readily. Those teaching the sessions were able to recognise difficulties other students had in using IT and, with the teacher’s help, support them appropriately to understand and use IT more effectively.

    As a result of the project, most students have grown in confidence in using IT. In addition, the project helped teachers better appreciate students’ difficulties and find more effective means of working to enable them to meet challenges and overcome barriers to learning.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Feedback Forms

Appendix 4: Student Prepared Teaching Materials

Appendix 5: Students working in classrooms

Appendix 6: Examples of Students’ Work


Education Training Foundation (2021) Effective digital skills teaching in the context of digital exclusion: ESOL and non- formal learning, available on: Essential Digital Skills CPD programme – The Education and Training Foundation (

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University

One Stop English (date unknown) ESOL Support: IT in ESOL, available on:, Date accessed: 11.02.2022

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

7a. Capel Manor College

Target setting to improve learning

Capel Manor College

This project highlighted the importance of keeping a focus on the student. Engagement and independent learning are increased through the personalisation of work and an interest in each learner as an individual. A constant focus on target setting can show students where they need to improve and allow them to stretch and challenge themselves but it is not the only effective method of increasing either engagement or achievement.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


As is the case with many further education (FE) colleges and GCSE retake students, our students frequently have negative attitudes towards English and maths, are demotivated when studying these subjects again and often make little progress (Belgutay, 2019; Higton et al, 2017). Students’ attendance at English sessions is generally poor with them reluctant to take responsibility for their work and achievements. They frequently rely on teachers or support assistant to complete tasks and are generally passive. By working with students to set meaningful learning targets, our project aimed to increase independent learning, supporting and encouraging students to grow in confidence, recognise their strengths and areas for development, and work towards success.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 programme taking place within the English department of our FE, land-based college. We initially worked with three GCSE groups to explore the effectiveness of student-led target setting activities in promoting engagement and active learning. Additionally, spreading ideas and approaches out into all the English GCSE classes. Our GCSE classes take place both face-to-face and online via Microsoft Teams and using other online tools such as Nearpod. We mainly worked with two mixed level groups online and one Level 1 group which was face-to-face with occasional online sessions.


We followed an action research approach (McNiff, 2017). After initial project team meetings, we used ‘getting to know you’ activities with students so we could link their interests to the lessons to help improve engagement. We built up to target setting slowly, gradually introducing more independent learning tasks.

  • Every English lesson of the year began with a ‘getting to know you’ activity (Appendix 3.1), which encouraged students to provide teachers with information they may need to know and show the group things they were interested in. This was done on a class notebook page for online classes so the teacher could always look back access information.
  • The team attended a training event with Jo Miles which specifically addressed the aims of the project. This brought the whole team together to focus on ideas for improving the project and putting them into place. There was a major focus on growth mindset (Dweck, 2016) and ways of motivating and engaging students.
  • The team visited another college to share teaching ideas and discuss project aims.
  • A Nearpod introduction was used to give students an idea of what the project was about and gauge their initial levels of confidence and views on independent learning. This was done with groups from three different teachers in GCSE English classes.
  • With support, students were encouraged to review the GCSE mark scheme and identify areas they could improve (Appendix 3.2) and further set their own targets using a list of common targets (Appendix 3.3). These targets were regularly reviewed after Mark book assessments, with the team and students analysing whether targets had been met and agreeing on the next steps.
  • We then decided to focus on students who gained a high grade 3 in the November retakes and prepare personalised learning plans for them highlighting the areas where they could pick up extra marks.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The project enabled the team to gain useful insights into learning processes and strategies for engaging and motivating students. Through meeting regularly and reflecting on activities undertaken, one of the main things we have learned is the best way to increase engagement and independent learning is through individualised work and creating lessons and materials that reflect the interests of the student and are relevant to their lives. Although time-consuming, this pays dividends in the long run as students begin to engage more fully and take pleasure in their learning. Involving students in the learning process, encouraging and supporting them in setting meaningful targets, enables them to progress in both English and their main subject specialism. Regularly agreeing and reviewing learning targets enabled the development of a more positive ‘growth mindset’ (Dweck, 2016). Furthermore, whilst getting constant feedback from the students allows them to feel appreciated and involved, they are more likely to attend and participate when they see their feedback is being taken on board and actioned, as evidenced in the Case Studies (Appendix 2)

Project team members gained new insights into their practice and strengthened their relationship with students by involving them as partners in the learning process. Rather than seeing students as passive receivers of information, they began to see them as individuals who, with support and encouragement, could become more active and purposeful. As one learner commented:

Having regular 1:1 tutorials meant he felt appreciated, and he was improving because he knew the teacher ‘cared about him passing’ (Case Study 2)

Through attending CPD sessions we were introduced to and then were able to integrate new approaches into our teaching practice.

Organisational Development

One of the main organisational changes to take place is the shift from teaching Functional Skills English and GCSE English to only focusing on GCSE. The college visit and listening to feedback from students highlighted the need for us to focus on progress rather than achievement. Next academic year, all students will do GCSE courses apart from a small group of Foundation Learning students who will take an entry level course in English which is linked to the GCSE course. This change will allow multiple GCSE classes to take place at once so that each group can be focussed on one grade level, studying a scheme of work which aims to progress students to the next grade. Students consider GCSE to be a valid qualification which they need to achieve compared to Functional Skills which was often considered unimportant. Looking at students’ targets with them and highlighting the progress they had made, whether this was in terms of grades or understanding, motivated them and allowed them to see their strengths and areas for development. For example:

A student explained he knew exactly what he needed to do to get the extra marks and he completed extra practice questions at home to make the improvements necessary (Case Study 2).

We will also be focussing on the students’ progress by implementing a ‘Maths and English star of the week’ award which will be given to one student every week who has done particularly well. They will receive an award indicating exactly why they have won and whoever has the most at the end of the term will receive a gift card. This allows all students to be rewarded, shows their progress and motivates them to progress in their maths and English lessons. Petty (2016) concluded that competitions or challenges often produce strong motivation in classes of students. So far, the majority of students have responded very positively to this idea and it has led to an increase in productivity and engagement. However, one student commented that the idea is ‘childish’ and didn’t think it was a good idea.

Learning from this project

What went well

Getting to know more about the students and their interests was very successful in increasing engagement. Teachers were able to link lessons to things that the students enjoyed as well as vocationally linking them. Students reported back they felt appreciated and more likely to attend when they knew their teacher was interested in them as a person. Constantly asking for student feedback on topics, activities and new ideas was very beneficial in finding out how they feel and what motivates them, especially from students who are often quiet and do not participate.

We were able to do a whole team training event with Jo Miles which specifically addressed the aims of the project. This was an excellent way to bring the whole team together, focusing on ideas for improving the project and putting them in place. Additionally, visiting a highly successful college was also extremely productive in improving practice, providing the opportunity to share ideas, discuss what we had done and identify where further improvements could be made.

The independent learning plans created from the November GCSE resit exams were extremely helpful in showing the students where they had done particularly well and where they could pick up additional marks to achieve a grade 4. Students were able to set their targets and create individualised revision plans. (See Appendix 4)

Even better if

Unfortunately, some problems with the admin of the classes at the start of term meant that the project was delayed in getting fully started and some students missed out on the ‘getting to know you’ activity or did it with one teacher and then moved to another group. It would have been more effective if students were in the correct place from the start so that they could form a positive relationship with their teacher and the rest of their class.

Furthermore, if more staff members had been involved, the project would have been even better. At the start, we used multiple groups but this had to be cut down. Often teachers deliver the same things in different ways and we can always learn from each other so having all the English teachers involved would have been more beneficial.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    The project encouraged team members to constantly reflect on teaching practices and how they work for different students. Some activities worked well with some students but not so successfully with others. We learned a lot about adapting teaching practices to meet different individual and group needs. We extended the range of approaches used, gaining the confidence to use them to support students.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Involving the students in the research allowed them to feel valued and appreciated and confirmed that their teachers were interested in them and cared about their progress. This built very positive relationships meaning the students felt comfortable in giving honest feedback. Colleagues working closely together on the project also improved relationships and resource sharing See Case Studies, Appendix 2).

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    This was the main focus of our project enabling us to come together and work on strategies to gradually increase the amount of responsibility taken by students for their learning. We gained insight into key reasons for students not wanting to stretch and challenge themselves or even engage in the lessons at all, and to work out ways to reduce these barriers. For example, students often stated that previous teachers didn’t seem to know who they were and were, therefore demotivated, but through 1:1 tutorials they built effective links with their current teachers and began to take more responsibility for their own learning. (See Appendix 2).


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Learners’ work

Appendix 4: Examples of students’ work and targets

Appendix 4: Examples of students’ work and targets


Belgutay, J. (2019) GCSE resits: 2 in 3 students ‘make no progress’, available, date accessed 05.04.2021

Dweck, C. (2016). What having a “growth mindset” actually means. Harvard Business Review, 13, pp.213-22

Higton, J., Archer, R., Dalby, D., Robinson, S., Birkin, G., Stutz, A., Smith, R., & Duckworth, V. (2017) Effective practice in the delivery and teaching of English and Mathematics to 16–18-year-olds, London: DfE

McNiff, J. (2017). You and Your Action Research Project, London:

Routledge. Petty, G. (2016). Teaching today: A practical guide. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

8c. Strathmore College

Unlocking Potential in English

Strathmore College

I can envisage a time when I will read for pleasure.

– English Learner

This project looked at how to support learners, who have become disengaged with English, to re-engage with their core literacy skills.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


The project aimed to address the challenge of progress and achievement in English for SEND learners. SEND learners achieve significantly lower than their peers in assessments for measuring national performance (Appendix 3a). We aimed to investigate what works in supporting our SEND learners. The SEND learners involved have a high level of awareness and understanding, but have been hard to reach because they have seen their (particular) SEND diagnosis as a barrier to their learning. We aimed to investigate how best to support these particular learners. More specifically, we aimed to investigate how to best support these learners with re-engagement, motivation, retention and achievement. We aimed to better understand how we could close the attainment gap (for these SEND learners), through an improved support network with better communication between Learning Support Assistants (LSA’s) and wider support teams.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. Strathmore College is an independent specialist college for young people aged 16-24. All the young people have an Education, Health and Care Plan and many require support for their social, emotional and mental health. They are taught in small groups or one-to-one, having been through the specialist education system prior to their post-16 education. They may have had long periods of absence from school. A lack of formal qualifications and limitations in English are expected. The college ethos promotes community-based learning and engagement in meaningful activities and work-related learning. The team consisted of the project lead, an English tutor, the deputy project lead, a tutor and lead on qualifications, key tutors and learning support assistants (LSAs) that work daily with the learners, embedding English skills development in practical sessions.


1. Assessment of learner strengths and areas for development

In a one-to-one teaching and learning environment, comprehensive assessments took place. This included standard BKSB initial assessments, so we had a benchmark reference for progress, Functional Skills style written assessments (some learners were not willing to take an online assessment), and discussions with learners around their perceived areas of strengths and weaknesses. Learners were all informed as to the outcomes of the assessments. Learners were then supported with identifying one or two key focus skills area(s), answering the question: ‘What area(s) can I develop to help improve my English?

Areas that learners identified included:
• Spelling
• Punctuating/writing sentences accurately
• Vocabulary and word recall.

These were captured on our Padlet (Appendix 3f).

2. Staff Training and Involvement

The aims of the project were to provide a close support network for the learners in order to improve their engagement in English, through increased opportunities to practise core skills with an informed team. As such, developing communication and understanding of the learners’ literacy needs was key. Strategies to support learners were shared with staff in meetings. Individual learner folders were created online, so that tasks and activities were accessible to all, across all sites. Learners all had an English skills folder, in which bespoke activities were kept. To develop consistency and increase communication, the Project Lead began to have one-to-one support meetings with the staff, to report progress, take feedback and discuss strategies. Learners could choose to be present, supporting their involvement in the process and this helped to secure learner buy in. This was supported through including a log of activity at the front of the folder to develop three-way communication between the learner, LSA(‘s) and project lead

As staff fed back, a key area that was identified for CPD was how to enable young people to develop their spellings in a way that did not make them feel patronised or belittled. To meet this need, bespoke CPD was organised and delivered by ‘That Spelling Thing’ (Millar, 2022). This enabled a consistency of approach with learners. LSAs found that learners were more willing than expected to read words aloud and sound them out as a spelling strategy; this worked especially well as learners realised they did not always pronounce words correctly, which had affected their spellings.

3. Learner involvement

Learners fed back verbally, through reflective activity and through written feedback forms. In response, additional project activities included making, and finding bespoke resources, for example, including adapting existing resources such as standard lesson feedback forms to better suit their needs (Appendix 3c).

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Formal Awards

All the learners involved in the project made significant and rapid progress in their formally awarded qualifications. One (case study) learner, who did not formally study English during his first year at the college, was the first to complete his Level 1 Project; another, the first to take, and pass a Level 2 exam.

Motivation and Volition

Learner engagement significantly increased, as the images of Learner 1’s work below highlight. Learner 1 goes from ‘I don’t know’ to giving a clear and concise answer.

examples of work before and after

Learner 1 feedback in October 2021 and work in January 2022

Raised Aspirations

Learners began to work more creatively and become more ambitious with their work. The first image represents half of the entirety of work completed for formal assessment at the end of the previous year by (case study) learner 2. The second image shows 2 months into the project working closely and consistently with his LSA.

examples of work before and after

Learner 2 showed marked improvements in their work over the course of the project

Improved Resilience

Learners demonstrated resilience through a willingness to visit and revisit work. Learners were willing to undertake activities that they would previously have refused, as they focused on their weaknesses.

In feedback, learners commented on negative school experiences that had impacted on their resilience and motivation for learning – from wanting to give up when presented with easier work than their peers to being bullied because they were perceived to be ‘not as able’. This had a long-term impact on the learners and still led to heightened emotions and poor self-esteem. However, in at least one case a teacher differentiating work for a learner led to a sense that the teacher had given up on the learner being able to achieve with peers in a whole-group setting and led to a view that:

It is easier to say no you can’t do something rather than try and do it.

– Learner 1 interview

Whilst learners may have some negative views about being educated within a specialist setting – this too clearly has impacted the confidence of these learners; they could see that the close relationships with staff and the very small group setting had led, or was beginning to lead, to an academic achievement that was in line with their peers in school.

The images below illustrate the impact of our action research project in relation to teaching, learning and assessment practices:

Organisational Development

The nature of our organisation meant that the project was very person-centred in its approach. Focus skills areas were individualised to the learner, taking account of their individual strengths, areas for development and learning preferences. Having said this, key themes emerged, and it was found that learners wanted to, and felt there was a value in developing vocabulary, improving spellings and use of punctuation. Inevitably, even when their key skills focus was not vocabulary based, learners were introduced to a wider vocabulary and given more opportunities to read independently, and this positively impacted on reading comprehension. Both case study learners felt that it was their reading that improved the most.

This is in line with the research of Quigley (2018), who advocates teaching vocabulary as key to whole school literacy, which he feels is currently ‘too unwieldy’ (p. 98). As such, our review of English teaching policy and practices will include a focus on embedding English specifically through vocabulary development, with a focus on reading and the discrete teaching of vocabulary, in order to develop ‘word-consciousness’ (Quigley, p.99). This can be achieved through re-introducing key subject vocabulary focuses (as starters), word wheels (which a number of the learners enjoyed completing), ‘word of the day’, teacher/ LSA questioning and extension, modelling display, vocabulary worksheets in class and setting expectations with cross-college reading, where learners can identify and record new vocabulary. A number of the learners on the project were given alphabetised books where they could record new vocabulary.

Learning from this project

Some learners made rapid progress and some common themes emerged:

  • Strong relationships with their LSA/teacher and a belief that there was a plan for their success, which was individualised, leading to a growth of confidence, demonstrated in a willingness to make mistakes and associated improvements/developments.
  • An intrinsic or external motivating factor e.g., wanting to improve personally or an external goal, such as access to General Further Education or the workplace. Those learners that developed an intrinsic desire to improve, which may have not been present at the start of the project, spoke most positively about themselves and their achievements and showed the greatest willingness to continue to improve their skills after the project ended. In fact, the project could support the idea that ‘students can perform extrinsically motivated actions with resentment’ (Deci and Ryan, p.55). Such learners made rapid progress but did not readily talk of their achievements and remained self-critical. Those that became intrinsically motivated continued with activities when they had ‘free choice’ to do whatever they decided. For example, Learner 1 chose to read in the mornings at home, with no sense of expectation that he read outside of lessons at all.
  • A need for consistency – of staffing, timing of lessons, approaches to learning and staff expectations. The nature of the project meant that these expectations became shared across the team of staff and were based around the learner.

Fundamental to learner progress was the relationship between teachers/LSAs and learners. These relationships seemed to be defined by teachers/LSAs who had high expectations but were willing to give unlimited support and flexibility in order to enable the young person to meet those expectations. This was reciprocated by the learners who then became motivated themselves.

Where staffing changed regularly, the lack of consistency of expectation was seen to impact on the learner progress and motivation was seen to decline. One learner had a period of time out of college but quickly picked up where he left off as he was supported by an LSA who had helped him to succeed previously.

In all cases, the progress became rapid when the learners could see the progress for themselves and ultimately took responsibility for their own learning, with physical evidence that they could do something they had previously believed that they could not do, which perhaps had not been proved before because of a readiness to give up. These learners who could talk about their own progress were then willing to try new things and showed the highest level of resilience, even when presented with mundane or challenging tasks. There is a clear need to be ambitious for all learners regardless of their previous experiences.

We realised the impact of developing vocabulary knowledge on reading skills, through the focus on spellings. With hindsight, we would have introduced a discrete teaching of vocabulary, through the multi method approach to reinforcement, that all staff could support the learning with. This will be reflected in our development planning for 2022-23.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Learners appreciated being involved in decision making around their learning as it enabled them to link what they were doing to their own goals; for example, they were able to choose options of work to tackle the same literacy topic and this helped to forge relationships. They also witnessed and appreciated when staff were working together for the learners’ benefit, and this led to greater efforts on behalf of the learners.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour

    Our project enabled us to explore learner behaviour and motivations which are closely linked. Behaviour here means positive approaches to learning, a growth mindset, which a number of learners began to demonstrate as they witnessed and understood their own progress and as they realised that they were at the centre of the project.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Here the focus is overcoming ‘individual barriers to learning’ which proved to be learners’ historic experiences and what this had taught them, rather than their SEND. Strategies can be used and employed to tackle barriers of SEND but overcoming the impact on confidence, self-esteem and motivation due to perceptions of SEND has proven the greater challenge.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Context and ‘in-project’ developments


Deci, E and Ryan, R (2000). Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations: Classic Definitions and New
Direction Contemporary. Educational Psychology 24, pp54-67 [online] Available at:

Millar, T. That Spelling Thing: more than letters (2022). Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Quigley, A (2018) Closing the Vocabulary Gap Routledge: Oxford

8a. Chesterfield College

Student-led strategies to motivate and engage lower-level GCSE English students.

Chesterfield College

This project aims to create strategies to motivate and engage lower-level English students. Through a process of ‘testing’ different practices and resources, we are learning that there are several factors that contribute to motivation and engagement. These include giving students autonomy on how activities are carried out, who leads the participation, and who takes responsibility for the completion of the activities.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


We are exploring learning approaches to engage lower attaining English GCSE students, who are disenchanted with the education system and have no prior attainment. As a department, we primarily teach students who have had a negative experience in the school educational system. This has been detrimental to their attitudes towards English and education in general.

We want to identify if giving students more responsibility and control during tasks and activities will have a direct correlation to higher motivation and engagement rates. We hope to be able to enhance and improve our curriculum based on the evidence we collect, leading to increased attendance, enjoyment, and achievement of English for hard-to-reach students at a crucial stage in their educational journey.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research is part of the ETF’s OTLA 8 Programme. Our research team is Alison Stenton, Pati White, Faye Deabill, Kay Hutton and Josephine Turner. The student groups are made up of 15 students in group 1 (6 female and 9 male) and 14 students in group 2 (5 female and 9 male). All students are aged from 16-19.

Group 1 are working at a higher level than group 2 but both groups have students that are benefitting from the use of these strategies. Two students have Education and Health Care plans (EHCPs), six have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), six have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and others have conditions ranging from Tourette’s, severe anxiety disorders, Irlen syndrome, heart conditions, brain conditions, epilepsy and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). We also have students with dyslexia and dyscalculia.


The composition of the course we chose to base our research on is vital to the approaches we took. Kickstart comprises of NEETS (not in education, employment or training) and students who, for either health or personal reasons, have missed a substantial chunk of secondary education. To engage consistently with this diverse group of lower-level ability students is a huge task in any given year; coming out of a pandemic added to the monumental challenge.

We decided, early in the project, to adopt a student-led approach to as many tasks and activities as possible; with transparency to students of our goals and intended outcomes. We have the luxury of 6 hours of English and 3 hours of unaccredited time in Employability classes a week to make sure the GCSE curriculum was being followed as well as our ideas implemented.

Student-led activities trialled included:

  • Board game instructions – students teaching other students how to play.
  • College Fayre – creation and organisation of activities lead by the Kickstart student ambassadors.
  • Citizen of the Month Awards – to reward active participation and volunteers to lead activities.
  • Spelling tests – students sharing the spellings in need of correction from marked work and students ‘running’ the spelling tests.
  • Starter activities – students using the whiteboard and playing ‘teacher’.
  • Student Ambassadors – students who volunteer to lead activities and were successful were made student ambassadors.
  • Student-led structure of the lessons – they chose which part of the lesson we do first and the running order.
  • Group work – students chose their own groups and were responsible for inclusivity and completion of tasks.
  • Nominating a leader to take responsibility and feedback of findings to class.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Some of the outcomes and impacts relating to the influence of our project on teaching, learning and assessment are listed below. For further details, including a range of images that illustrate this work in action, please see appendices 3a – 3h.

  • Board game instructions – Students were allowed to change the rules of well-known games and even made up a Boccia tournament with completely new rules. Engagement in this activity was 100%.
  • College Fayre – Creation and organisation of activities lead by the Kickstart student ambassadors will be rewarded with £100 worth of board games chosen by the students: increasing self-esteem and feelings of praise and reward.
  • Citizen of the Month Awards – Including ‘Most Helpful’ and ‘Most Kind’ we found increased offers to lead activities. Students were proud to be named Citizen- based on our ASPIRE principles*. Attendance awards are also given out.

* The College introduced a programme called ‘Aspire’, designed to complement and enhance learning. All students take part in the Aspire programme and the aim is to give students every opportunity to develop their talents and enrich their academic journey, through support and encouragement.

  • Spelling tests – Students using their own marking to make class spelling tests increased literacy skills immediately.
  • Starter activities – Students ‘playing teacher’ leads to other students wanting to be the next ‘teacher.’ Grades in the next formative assessment improved as students wanted to impress each other!
  • Student Ambassadors – Students who volunteered to lead activities were made student ambassadors. This really upped the importance and reverence attached to volunteering to lead. We now have 5 ambassadors who have been invited to Open Evenings and other college events with special lanyards and T-shirts and pin badges. We now have another 4 students desperately wanting to be ambassadors!
  • Student led structure of lessons – Led to increased interest in upcoming themes, extracts, and topics. Students even chose which extracts they prefer to use in their mock exams. Raising retention and attendance for the mock exam weeks!
  • Group work – Students choosing their own groups had an incredibly positive impact as they are usually against any form of group work but being allowed to work in a group of their own choosing (with their friends mainly) helped improve participation and engagement.
  • Nominating a leader to take responsibility and feedback findings to the class. The relief of having one person allocated to speak was received well as it takes the pressure away from students who did not want to address the whole class.

The most impressive impact is that after our director saw our research work, she decided to implement all these activities into our Grade 1,2 and 3 GCSE English Schemes of Work for 2022-2023!

Organisational Development

Changes and improvements in our practice were shared by keeping the wider English team updated in team meetings. We will be incorporating student-led activities into maths, employability and tutorials on Kickstart from now on. We had identified that most students on Kickstart have a 10 to 15 minute maximum concentration span. This increased immediately when students took ownership of activities. This also increased when we conducted a series of shorter activities, or where students could rotate the room spending 15 minutes at each activity station (board games and story development).

Activities were designed to meet the neuro-divergent nature of our students. For instance, ASD students appreciated knowing the week before what activities were student-led, so they could feel prepared to step out of their comfort zone. ADHD students enjoyed the fact that there were opportunities to switch activities more often than in traditional English classes and that they could lead at times. Shy students preferred to be involved behind the scenes, preparing activities and setting up equipment etc. At no point were students with dyslexia disadvantaged in any way. Anxious students could buddy up in pairs and remain with a student they were comfortable with. Feedback across the board was one of motivation and enjoyment above more traditional task methods.

Learning from this project

Prominent educational researcher Robert Marzano stated that ‘positive relationships between teachers and students are among the most commonly cited variables associated with effective instruction’ (Resilient Educator, 2020). The building of positive, honest, relationships are key in motivating our lower-level students. Our research has found that the use of games and spelling tests during lessons has increased engagement. Encouraging students to physically write on the board, during starter activities and spelling tests has proven successful in increasing punctuality and attendance. Seeing the students interested and excited to participate has certainly proved the research worthwhile. Marzano agrees that increasing participation ‘in … simulation and games will help ensure everyone in the classroom is learning’ (ibid). When students are enjoying what they are doing engagement increases, concentration levels improve, and they no longer see the lesson as a chore.

Our evaluation and adaptation of lesson plans and structure has had a positive impact. These concepts are outlined further through the student case studies. Promoting autonomy within the classroom has further assisted teaching, learning and assessment.

Research shows that student-led learning can be more effective than other approaches led by teachers. Student-led learning gives students permission to make mistakes and try again in a safe and comfortable environment. Student-led learning encourages students to think for themselves, rather than simply following teachers’ instructions. Our research findings therefore correlate strongly with Marzano’s theory, that ‘student-led learning makes students partners in their own education, which translates to higher levels of cooperation and interest’ (ibid).

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of students.

    Due to the nature of the Kickstart course, our students come from various backgrounds and have various SEND needs. Many of them had difficult experiences during their past time in education. Each lesson was followed by a reflection time, where we decided if the new strategy was successful and how it helped the students. This reflection time allowed us to narrow down which strategies were working well and also informed our monthly project progress reports.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values, and beliefs.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to challenge our assumptions about how students deconstruct and build words. By engaging in research activity that asked for students’ perspectives, we were able to appreciate that through understanding students’ existing spelling strategies, and building on these, greater progress was made than when we started from a position of students as spelling novices.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    We hold regular meetings to discuss our observations and share our experiences. English GCSE and FS teachers have tried several of the student-led activities. Across the board engagement improved. Students in the more kinaesthetic vocational courses really appreciated a level of physical activity and control. Alison tried some student-led tasks with her adult GCSE students. Strangely, she said ‘they did not respond with enthusiasm but preferred me to lead all activities.’

  • 13. Motivate and inspire students to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    There are a lot of barriers to learning in FE; having to retake maths and English means we deal with students who feel like ‘failures’ from day one. We wanted to show students that English can be fun by involving the elements of responsibility, inclusivity, competition and giving them more ownership over their learning.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Student-led activities and work


Resilient Educator, (2020). Overview of Marzano’s Model of Teaching Effectiveness. Available at: [Accessed: 16.05.2022].

ELT Teacher’s Corner (2016). 12 Ways to Motivate your Students. Available at: [Accessed: 26.04.2022].

Shady Oak Primary School (2021). Benefits of Student-Led Learning. Available at: [Accessed: 26.04.2022].


Tools for teaching (and how to spell them)
exploring English in vocational contexts

Novus: HMP Liverpool

This project captured a range of reflections on the experience of teaching and learning English in the context of vocational training in prisons. It challenged tutors’ assumptions about learners and led to clearer insights into and development of support for the needs of learners.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Previous research for OTLA 7 showed that HMP Liverpool’s body of learners has a desire for self-improvement but was not particularly engaged with Functional Skills learning. This project for OTLA 8 was intended to address how learner engagement and motivation could be captured and developed by strengthening links between English and vocational teaching. Instead of learning English as a separate topic, it was hoped that learners would find greater relevance by practising English directly in the context of vocational workshops therefore highlighting the importance of English to daily life and the workplace.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OLTA 8 Programme. The research focused on the education department of HMP Liverpool with delivery provided by Novus. It took place in the vocational workshops, particularly joinery, and involved a group of 12 learners undertaking a Level 1 joinery qualification. The project lead, an English tutor, also worked closely with vocational tutors from a range of subjects including catering, industrial cleaning and joinery to ensure their views, feedback and attitudes towards the research could be accurately captured.

Initially, there were plans for more English tutors to be involved in the project, trialling activities using vocational topics and resources in their lessons to encourage greater collaboration between departments.


The approach to this project took the form of four main strands. Firstly, learners from the general vocational cohort were interviewed to establish their competence, comfort and opinions about the importance and relevance of English to their past and current life experiences. These took place over in-cell telephones which allowed learners space and privacy to be honest in their answers.

Data from the interviews (which showed a group of learners who generally appreciated the relevance of English skills to their lives inside and outside of prison) was then used to inform the planning of English teaching activities which were conducted in the joinery workshop towards the end of lessons. These included spelling words relevant to the joinery qualification (taken from workbooks) and texts a joiner might use at work (e.g., risk assessments). Learner reflections were captured to record what they had learned and how they felt about the activities. The tutor also reflected on each activity.

In addition to teaching activities, detailed explorations of joinery learners’ previous experience of English learning took place including at school, prison and elsewhere, how they would prefer to be taught, what has worked well in the past and what they would like to try in the future. Interviews were conducted with a range of learners including those who were less receptive to the changes in learning trialled by the project. Learners with contrasting views and experiences were selected to examine effective ways of teaching English to vocational learners.

Discussions were held with vocational tutors to find out their attitudes towards and confidence with English teaching and their opinions on the impact of CPD related to the research. This was to ensure any developments in teaching activities would be sustainable and easy to maintain in future.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The impact of this project on teaching, learning and assessment can be seen in many ways. The first is improved relationships between vocational trainers and English teachers. Previously, the departments were noticeably separate both physically and collaboratively. Vocational trainers have been able to feel safe communicating their feelings toward English teaching: ‘I don’t think it would be fair on me or the learner to teach them something I’m not confident in myself’ [Appendix 7].

This has enabled bespoke CPD intended to improve confidence and adaptations to lesson scheduling to allow better use of available teaching time. It is now normal for vocational trainers to discuss their planning with English tutors to check that English has been included effectively. This has led to a greater focus on embedding English in vocational training and increased knowledge about it. There is now a bank of English resources for tutors and trainers to use that are directly related to the vocational subjects being taught. They include the use and spelling of technical vocabulary and exploration of texts that are used when working within the industries the learners are getting their qualification for [Appendix 8].

There is also now a much better understanding of vocational learners’ capabilities and attitudes towards English. There was a general assumption that learners chose vocational subjects because they were no good at or had no interest in learning English skills. While this may be true for some learners, the majority of those interviewed could clearly and articulately explain how English was relevant to their lives and how they used it before and while being in prison [Appendix 3]. Even if they said they preferred vocational subjects to English learning, and did not want to study it further, they could appreciate its importance. The learner contributing to Case Study Two who did not want to learn English said: ‘You use it for everything, don’t you? Even though you don’t realise it, you are.’ [Appendix 6]. This challenged vocational tutors’ statements such as ‘they would disengage’ or ‘I don’t think they would be bothered’ [Appendix 7] and led to the implementation of English drop-in sessions for vocational leaners who express a wish for this or who need to learn specifically identified skills.

Organisational Development

The main organisational change has been the development of English teaching alongside vocational training. Previously vocational trainers were expected to teach English to address mistakes made by learners, without being given appropriate training to do so. Vocational trainers now have a range of trialled resources to use and have been empowered to develop their own activities which teach English and vocational topics in parallel should this suit their cohort of learners [Appendix 8]. This was a result of listening to learners, vocational trainers and English tutors. Contributions to the development of English teaching were not limited to English tutors themselves: ‘I have put together some theory lessons that are based on my Level 1 course that will include them doing written work.’ [Appendix 6]. The professional standard of the building of positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners was seen frequently throughout, with learners and vocational trainers giving insights that would not have been obvious to an English tutor planning alone [Appendix 4]. New perspectives were gained through detailed interviews with learners who had contrasting viewpoints [Appendices 1 and 6]. These led to the decision to set up English drop-in sessions for learners who want them or those identified by vocational trainers as needing to work on specific skills. These will be conducted by English teachers to cater for those learners who needed confidence in their tutor’s subject knowledge.

Learning from this project

Findings from this project can be seen to link to those of OTLA 6 where a focus on spelling within vocational prison workshops was explored. Common themes across both pieces of research include the ‘how learners benefit from breaking words into syllables when learning spelling’ and ‘how improving the confidence of vocational trainers really helps if they are required to teach aspects of English’. ‘Encouraging staff to try a different approach within their delivery, coupled with the introduction of a new concept, has led to their improved confidence and autonomy…’ (OTLA 6 Project 10d Novus, 2020).

By recording reflections and feedback from learners and vocational trainers, it was possible to develop resources directly linking to work, enabling them to participate more confidently: ‘It would need to be fun and interesting’ and ‘Integrate it more into joinery’ [Appendix 6]. Trainers have been supported to think carefully about their approach to English and are now equipped to develop English resources to use alongside vocational teaching where appropriate. ‘I asked the learners about [my English resources] and the majority would be keen to do them, so I would be confident in delivering it that way.’ [Appendix 7]. This ensured the sustainability of learning from the project in conjunction with learner drop-in sessions.
This research would have been even better if its scope had not been restricted by physical limitations caused by environmental issues and Covid outbreaks which caused workshops and catering to be closed for many months. Despite gaining useful insights from activities that were trialled, more data could have been gathered if these were started sooner.

However, as this change in direction led to detailed insights from learner interviews, it is possible that the information seen in the case studies might not have been gained otherwise.

This project challenged the assumption that vocational learners have little appreciation of the relevance of English. Even the least receptive of learners could articulate the importance of using English for work and daily life. It highlighted the need for tutors to contextualise the teaching of English to maximise its meaning, impact and use for the learner and for vocational trainers to have tools to teach English (if they need them) in addition to the tools of their trade.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners

    By trialling English resources and capturing reflections from learners, the vocational department is now able to extend opportunities for those who have previously thought that ‘academic’ subjects were ‘not for them’. The reflections given were sometimes bluntly honest which encouraged in-depth thinking around what might work better. It was then possible to teach English in different ways to meet the needs of more learners. Working with and adapting teaching approaches for those with ADHD and other neurodiversities gave tutors a greater insight into how to support English for a wider range of learners.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to challenge our assumptions about how learners deconstruct and build words. By engaging in research activity that asked for learners’ perspectives, we were able to appreciate that through understanding learners existing spelling strategies, and building on these, greater progress was made than when we started from a position of learners as spelling novices.

  • 10. Evaluate your practice with others and assess its impact on learning.

    Discussion of the success and failure of teaching activities often took place between the vocational trainer and the English tutor. As a result of these discussions, it was possible to focus on details of the activities which posed particular challenges (e.g. the spelling of word endings) and how these could be addressed. The vocational tutor was often able to capture more detailed feedback in conversation with learners which led to changes in the delivery of future activities.

  • 20. Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others.

    Links and working relationships between vocational and English departments have now been strengthened through discussion about and the gathering of ideas from tutors/trainers from a range of areas. There is a renewed focus on the embedding of English in vocational teaching and drop-in sessions for learners have been planned for vocational workshops.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Initial attitudes to English learning

Appendix 4: Learner Reflections on Activities

Appendix 5: Tutor’s Reflections on Activities

Appendix 6: Joinery Learners’ Interview Responses

Appendix 7: Trainer Discussions

Appendix 8: Resource Padlet


Claire Collins Consultancy (2022) Empowering Vocational Tutors to Develop a Phonics-Based Approach to Functional English [online] Available at: Accessed: 14.03.2022.

6b: College of West Anglia

Developing reading in 16-18 year olds

College of West Anglia

This project focused on a small cohort of technology learners and explored their reading ability as well as their attitudes towards reading, with the aim of having a positive influence on both. We aimed to bridge the gap between vocational areas and the English department to normalise reading. We trialled a range of strategies and found that ‘Echo reading’ (Didau, 2021) and the use of an anthology of texts in GCSE English lessons, in particular, had a positive influence on learners’ reading habits.

One of the additional benefits of the project was the use of learner voice – an in-depth insight we had not anticipated.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


In FE we face the problem of demoralised learners who have come to us with their guards up and their hatred for reading abundantly clear! The aim of this project was to make reading more accessible to learners and to take away some of the fear they have brought with them from school.

The project was influenced by the work of Vivienne Smith (2010) and her interpretative framework. She discusses the idea that learners can revisit texts and ask different questions of it each time as their understanding would be different based on their social and emotional experiences. We aimed to expand on this idea.

It was hoped that as a bare minimum we could improve the relationship between learners and texts and hopefully see an improvement in not only achievement, but enjoyment and engagement.

Other Contextual Information

Our project took place in an FE College, and we focused on two small groups of technology learners studying for GCSE resits – this was around 25-30 learners in total.

Two teachers from the English department were involved in the research along with six technology teachers from across the vocational area. The aim was to keep the project small and manageable so the impact could be monitored more accurately before moving to a wider cohort sample if successful.


We really hit the ground running and started with our biggest changes first. We were eager to have some aspects in place ready for a September start so steps 1-3 below were completed in the summer administration days, with the rest completed during the academic year alongside teaching. We did find it a struggle to persevere in the final months due to staffing issues in our department, so it was a relief we had made so much progress prior to this.

  1. used the results of the learner voice surveys from the academic year 20-21 to gather information around what themes learners enjoy reading about (Appendix 3)
  2. adapted the GCSE Scheme of Learning to incorporate learners’ preferred themes and decided to change these around every six weeks. Themes which relate to real life were selected.
  3. created an anthology of set texts – three texts per theme so all exam skills in that rotation could be covered alongside the allocated theme. (Appendix 4)
  4. trialled reading strategies in class to get learners reading aloud (conducted in the first two weeks of teaching).
  5. purchased L’ Explore Analytics software to explore further reading ability and performed practice assessments with six learners to gain qualified examiner status
  6. met with the technology department to share our research ideas and recruited volunteers to record readings of texts from the anthology
  7. English teachers visited plumbing, carpentry and motor vehicle departments to see learners in their own environments and to see what reading materials were accessible in workshops.
  8. liaised with LRC and sourced a selection of books to use in lessons.
  9. filmed technology teachers reading assessments to normalise reading. We plan to upload the videos to our online learning platform so learners have access.
  10. had conversations with staff in the LRC which resulted in the purchase of books for the anthology texts. These were made available to learners. Posters were created and advertised to learners. (Appendix 5)
  11. populated notice boards outside Motor Vehicle and Plumbing workshops to entice learners to read.
  12. continued to gather learner voice – with the final one at the beginning of May
before and after noticeboard outside motor vehicle (after has lots more posters and relevant articles)

Before and after notice board outside Motor Vehicle

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

five GCSE learners reading aloud together at the front of the class

A photo showing five GCSE English learners reading aloud together at the front of the class.

The introduction of the anthology has had the most impact at this stage. Learners report they appreciate the reduced number of texts they are faced with and having the opportunity to re-visit texts has allowed greater discussions within the classrooms. Learners have been able to connect their memories and prior knowledge to the texts (Willingham T, 2017). By reducing the number of texts, learners have more time to apply the exam skills to the extracts rather than spending time each lesson trying to comprehend fresh material. Assessment results have improved, as shown in the learner case studies, further evidencing that changes to the approach of teaching are resulting in progress within the classroom.

The themed lessons have had a mixed impact. ‘War and Conflict’ was the learners’ top choice in the last academic year and has so far been the most engaged with theme with this cohort. (Appendix 6).

Trying different strategies to get learners reading aloud has been a positive change to the teaching and learning; learners are becoming more comfortable with reading in front of their peers and holding relevant discussions about the texts. As studies show increased learner discussions and active participation facilitate learning (Kenney & Banerjee, 2011), this is a real strength of the project.

Final learner voice, completed in May 2022, compared to learner voice gathered in February 2021, showed positive overall outcomes with regards to learner enjoyment and understanding of lessons. (Appendix 7).

Gathering learner voice throughout the project became a more impactful tool than anticipated. We were able to identify learners who were not enjoying English, who did not find the work was explained well or did not get on with their teacher. The project lead, who is also the Programme Manager for the English department, withdrew this information and was able to contact the relevant learners, showing a) they are listened to and b) we are willing to help. This allowed opportunity for classes to be changed and additional support to be offered outside of the classroom; a benefit which was unanticipated at the start of the project.

Organisational Development

Visit to the LRC. Higlighting in particular one of our anthology books: 'The Hate U Give'The project has allowed us to build relationships with the technology department (professional standard 20), which, in turn, has demonstrated to learners that English is not a separate entity to their vocational area. This has appeared like a sign of solidarity between us and our technology colleagues and has helped to build collaborative relationships with the learners (professional standard 6). Forming these relationships has engaged and motivated learners within our sessions and may have been a contributing factor in why they feel comfortable reading in our classes.

The videos recorded of the technology teachers are yet to be used properly, and so the impact of this is still to be seen, but we hope that in time they will inspire and motivate learners to read.

We worked with the LRC, something we have not done before, to promote our anthology to learners. We were able to explore what books were already available to learners and acquired several boxes of ‘quick-reads’ to have in our classrooms to support and encourage reading at the start of sessions.

Learning from this project

As a result of hard work and careful planning, we were able to get the anthology out in time for commencement of teaching in September 2021. This was a real strength of the project as it enabled all GCSE learners the chance to focus their attention on the academic skill they needed for the exam, rather than battling to comprehend new material each session and then apply a tricky skill like evaluation, all in the space of ninety minutes.

This was not without its challenges, however. The impact of disrupted learning due to the pandemic on our learners has been profound, not just academically but with behaviour issues we have not faced before. The first theme the learners were reading about was Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Reflecting on this, we still believe this is an important topic and the texts chosen worked well, in particular ‘The Hate U Give’. In the next academic year, however, we will push this theme later in the year once learners have matured and fully understand the appropriate way to behave in the FE environment. Unfortunately, some opinions detracted from the lessons and assessing comprehension of the texts became challenging due to lively discussions which would often go off on tangents.

Trialling reading strategies such as ‘Echo reading’ (Didau, 2021) was surprisingly effective. The idea that the teacher reads a small section (a sentence or two) and a reader then repeats this aloud – effectively echoing the teacher – initially sounded a little primary school. However, learners participated and acknowledged why this could be an effective strategy and were able to demonstrate comprehension of the text after reading, so this was a success.

This strategy was particularly influential to us as practitioners as we had to stop and consider the potential cognitive overload of our learners. Reading along with the teacher initially seems like a straightforward task until you stop to consider the effect this can actually have on a learner’s understanding of texts.

feedback from the learners on the projectMoving forward, we have learned to attempt new strategies – even if there is a fear they will not work. With echo reading, we continued to trial this for a while longer; however we slipped back into the routine of learners reading sections out loud rather than echoing the teacher. This is still a success with regards to comprehension, as learners have now developed the confidence to read aloud in class and it is rare for them to refuse.

The L’ Explore Analytics software certainly opened our eyes to the challenges our learners have with reading. Visibly seeing their eyes darting around the screen as they tried to read was a real insight into what their processing was like, and the learners were quite fascinated when we were able to show them a picture of their eye movements. (Appendix 8). It was also interesting to watch learners read the extracts almost fluently yet fail to answer the comprehension questions immediately afterwards; evidence that learners can read words but there is a difference between decoding and comprehending the meaning of those words.
Unfortunately, due to staffing issues within the department, we did not have the capacity to explore this software further this year. We can see huge potential with the system, and the learners really engaged with the experimental phase of the training, so it will be interesting to explore this further in the next academic year.

Reading time (10-15 minutes) was introduced at the start of lessons in place of the current 5-a-day question starter activity. Learners were presented with the ‘quick-reads’ that we acquired from the LRC. Tutor observations were recorded, and learners gave feedback on post-it notes.

All learners chose a book and started reading. Some learners freely discussed details about the book they had read with the class or read out the synopsis. Some commented that they liked the quiet; however, others struggled to remain focused to read and got distracted talking to peers or looking at their phone. Two motor vehicle learners who were not engaged said they would read if there were books or magazines about cars with more pictures in.

There were some real positives that came out of the activity. The task opened discussion about reading with one technology learner sharing that their parent had helped them to set a schedule for reading at home, but he didn’t stick to it. In addition, five learners asked to take the book they had started to read home to continue reading. Others asked if we would do the activity again and asked if they could bring in their own books to do so and this did happen. Another learner mentioned that they thought their book had started well and we discussed how they could use something similar in their own writing.

Out of the twenty-five learners who gave feedback on the task, nine said that they would not like to do the task again with comments such as: [the task was] ‘boring’, ‘did not like reading’ or ‘prefer the 5-a-day activity’. Ten learners were positive about the task, largely saying they would like to do it again and a couple saying that they liked the slower/more relaxed start to lessons.

Feedback was received from the LRC about books that were borrowed from the anthology. The results show that, as shown in learner voice feedback, the war and conflict and EDI topics were the most popular. (Appendix 5).

Professional Development

We have selected three of the ETF’s Professional Standards (for teachers and trainers working in Further Education and Post-16 learning) to illustrate how our project has impacted on our approaches to professional development. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    The project allowed us the time to explore different strategies to help learners to learn. The L’ Explore software showed us the struggle some learners have following even the shortest of texts and being able to retain the information long enough to answer straight forward comprehension questions afterwards. The difference between reading aloud and silently informed our selection of reading strategies to use in the class: E.g. Echo reading.

  • 9. Apply theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment drawing on research and other evidence

    We conducted a vast amount of research into reading comprehension in young people. We explored social and economic influences, SEN impact and behavioural impacts. All of this alongside reading strategies and theories relating to cognitive overload, meant we were able to adapt our teaching to take these factors into consideration.

  • 14. Plan and deliver effective learning programmes for diverse groups or individuals in a safe and inclusive environment

    The creation of the anthology was to reduce the cognitive load for learners whilst highlighting important issues which need to be addressed in society. The focus on EDI has been profound and, although received in different ways, has allowed learners to express and celebrate their diversity.

    Lessons were planned to allow and encourage discussions around topics such as equality, relationships and gender roles, and learners demonstrated their understanding and were able to educate one another if views and beliefs were expressed in ways which lacked sensitivity.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Learner Voice

Appendix 4: Our anthology of texts

Appendix 5: Project posters

Appendix 6: Analysis of the anthology themes, based on learner voice surveys

Appendix 7: Comparison of learner voice survey results in 2021 and 2022

Appendix 8: L’Explore Analytics software


2021, from Learning Spy:

Kenney, J. L., & Banerjee, P. (2011). “Would Someone Say Something, Please?” Increasing Student Participation in College Classrooms. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 22(4), 57-81.

Smith, V. (2010). Comprehension as a Social Act. In K. Hall, Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Learning to Read. (pp. 63-73). Routledge.

Willingham T, D. (2017). The Reading Mind: A Cogntive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

6a: Burton and South Derbyshire College

Exploring digital approaches to reading
and writing

Burton and South Derbyshire College

This project aimed to investigate the validity of new digital approaches deployed in the Learning Resource Centre (LRC), focusing on enhancing digital reading and writing development.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


This research sought to determine the validity, relevance and impact of digital approaches which strive to improve and develop reading engagement and writing for learners within vocational areas. Learner observation indicated that awareness of valuable digital resources such as the e-textbooks could be pivotal to improving learners’ attainment and understanding, as well as enabling greater digital access to our LRC collections and services. Using collaborative digital writing platforms to promote learner confidence in writing was another area of exploration, with the aim to upskill learners’ digital capabilities further and develop confident understanding and use of digital technology for improving levels of literacy.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The research engaged participants from different departments across our FE College. The first approach was developing reading skills and access to our digital textbooks with a Level 2 Health and Social Care group. Secondly, we explored the improvement of writing using digital approaches with an Entry Level ESOL group and, finally, we worked with vocational learners from across the college to develop their digital reading skills.


The project leader, in collaboration with the Health and Social Care department, identified a suitable group for the study. The Level 2 Health and Social Care group were selected as their tutor recognised a clear need for the learners to become more familiar with their online textbook to increase their awareness of researching online and improve their digital reading habits. A short survey with the learners was conducted to ascertain their current reading habits and approaches to reading as well as exploring their thoughts about reading and wellbeing themes (Appendix 3a). Sessions on reading and accessing digital textbooks were delivered with the group and data was obtained through surveys to capture their thoughts on this initiative.

As part of the College’s Digital Wellness week, the Health and Social Care group also participated in the new Essential Digital Skills programme, which was supported by LRC staff. The new online digital course included content that required significant online reading to be conducted before assessment. Learners were observed and interviewed as they participated in the course.

Module data generated from the programme was gathered to reflect on the pace of reading, specifically if the design of the content was accessible and how the course impacted on teaching, learning and assessment practices and how digital access could be improved.

We also ran a ‘writing camp’ with an Entry Level ESOL group who worked collaboratively (supported by LRC staff and an external organisation Higher Horizons) to write a novel within one week using an online programme. Higher Horizons are an organisation enabling engagement with Higher Education through outreach work. The one-week camp involved the learners planning a novel collaboratively and writing using a digital programme through Google docs, especially adapted so writers could write, edit and collaborate in different chapters to collectively author the novel ‘The Unwelcome Newcomers’ (Cooks, 2022).

Case studies and semi-structured interviews were used to capture learners’ feedback, as well as observation of participants composing and creating the novel. Discussion with tutors, support staff and learners ascertained whether the participants’ confidence levels had improved and provided an opportunity to investigate whether the structure of the week had engaged their interest and encouraged them to develop their writing skills.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The focus on digital reading highlighted the importance of building and maintaining personal reading habits that can be a crucial aspect of success for learners. In the session, the inclusive features of ebooks were explored (Appendix 3b), such as highlighting, audio options and notetaking facilities, allowing learners to extrapolate and engage with text whilst simultaneously utilising digital literacies.

Giving learners directed instructions (Appendix 3c) allowed them to explore the features of these digital texts and they commented upon the usefulness of formulating questions prior to reading the extracts to master their understanding. The intervention clearly indicated that there was scope to develop the reading extracts and perhaps incorporate further sessions with elements of study skills e.g., advanced notetaking techniques whilst reading the text.

Data analysis from the Essential Digital Skills programme (Appendix 3d) indicates interesting results about the demands of reading online. Learners were scanning the information rather than employing detailed reading strategies and engaged more with the interactive elements, such as quizzes, which demonstrates that further integration of these assessment techniques would potentially enhance engagement. Reducing the text for each module and improving the layout of the information would assist with engagement and accessibility (Appendix 3e).

Developing Entry Level ESOL learners’ writing skills using a digital approach demonstrated that the initiative had a positive impact on the selected learners’ writing skills. Learners commented that they found the first day of planning difficult. Interestingly, no digital applications were used at this stage to help them formulate the plot. Once they were writing in the LRC, using computers and the Google docs layout provided more comfort; they mentioned the security of typing and access to tools such as the spellchecker to improve their writing. The digital approach and the interface of the document allowed them to design the text with ease, and, more importantly, it may demonstrate that the thinking process is occurring more naturally through digital practice. The process of drafting, improving, and checking revealed that the digital approach provided learners with the confidence to view themselves seriously as writers.

Organisational Development

More effective communication and working practices have emerged as a result of the supportive collaboration between curriculum and support staff. One tutor commented that several of the learners are now more confident using narrative tenses and are happier to share written stories.

The ESOL tutors also commented on and recognised the positive effect on their learners’ autonomy as a result of working with wider college teams and spaces. The recognition that others in the organisation can support the learner journey gives both learners and teaching staff an enriching dimension and allows learners to feel they are part of a wider learning community. Following the relinquishing of Covid restrictions, learners felt energised using the LRC and breaking away from classrooms. The presence of both groups increased in the LRC, especially during non-timetable periods (breaks and lunchtime) and they were more likely to come and ask for assistance as they became familiar with LRC staff.

Learning from this project

The research has provided insights into the study skills needs of learners; their responses showed that they needed support in being more motivated, developing concentration and remembering. These observations suggest that these topics should become the foundation of future study skills and reading sessions. Many respondents perceived reading as unimportant and the preferred activity was using their phones, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity to develop new sessions to explore the rapidly transforming models of accessing reading materials.

Learner access to relevant digital resources and textbooks has increased and this has had a positive impact on learner achievement through increased usage and assimilation within assignment work, with learners using the interactive tools to highlight, copy and search. Learners commented that using ebooks was:

Very very useful, [a] great aspect on my course.
… really good. I really enjoy my time as it is easy to understand.

These techniques can be further developed with the focus on more active methods such as making notes, taking the key ideas to paraphrase and writing summaries of chapters. We hope that this will lead to learners further developing the skills of analysing and critiquing what they read.

Embedding digital information skills into the curriculum means that LRC staff have upskilled their digital capabilities to deliver new methods of information literacy. This has also highlighted the need to develop a better technology-rich environment with greater mobile devices to enable collaboration.

Some writers found writing fiction challenging as they were used to producing transactional writing as the norm. The majority enjoyed the freedom of this approach and excelled in the chance to explore and apply their creative talents to produce a novel in less than a week and discover the merits of self-publishing (Appendix 3f).

The writing camp showcased the affordances offered by technology to support writing. The framework of the programme nestled within the Google documents allowed the novelists to work through and collaborate on multiple chapters, adding characters, scenes and plot twists with ease. Learners remarked that they preferred the digital approach as they had access to the editing tools to refine their words, improving grammar and spelling as they wrote.
The adoption of digital tools and techniques offers a unique opportunity to extend the reading and writing skills of learners.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technologies and support learners in their use of new technologies

    Our project had the aim and focus of engaging learners as active users of digital technologies to further enhance their reading and writing skills. The technologies such as e-books, Google docs and a bespoke platform were utilised to engage learners at scale to achieve their aims. Through research, we investigated learners’ engagement with these technologies and how they allowed learners agency to become confident users.

  • 20. Contribute to organisational development and quality improvement through collaboration with others

    The project has supported important strategic developments. One element of the College Skills Promise is to develop learners as Digital Experts. Having knowledge of, and skills in, the latest digital technologies will set learners up for their career in the 21st century workforce. In recognition of this Burton and South Derbyshire College (BSDC) has developed an Essential Digital Skills programme which the LRC team have supported by previewing and checking the content. During the college-wide Digital Wellness week LRC staff supported learners to enrol and participate in the course. Reflecting upon learner engagement will further enhance the quality of the resource as well as collaborating with other colleges who have also started to use the course to develop their learners’ digital skills.

6c: Suffolks New College

Developing reading for pleasure

Suffolk New College

This project sought to address the negative feelings that some of our students have about reading. We wanted to nurture a love of reading and ‘reading for pleasure’ throughout our college by introducing a student book club. We found that the book club inspired a love of reading as well as improving students’ confidence and establishing new friendships.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Many studies cite big reductions in the amount of time that young people spend reading, and ‘daily reading levels have fallen for young people aged 16 to 18’ (National Literacy Trust, 2020). At Suffolk New College we can see that most of our students are still not reading for pleasure, which results in them having a limited vocabulary that inevitably holds them back from achieving higher grades in English. There is a growing body of evidence that illustrates the importance of reading for pleasure for both educational purposes as well as personal development (Clark and Rumbold, 2006).

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme and took place within our FE college. Ten students joined the book club during the course of the project. They came from different vocational areas and had varying levels of English. Two were studying Functional Skills, seven were resitting GCSE English and one had completed GCSE English in November.
For the purpose of this project the definition of ‘reading for pleasure’ has been defined by the National Literacy Trust as:

Reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that having begun at someone else’s request we continue because we are interested in it.
– Clark and Rumbold, National Literacy Trust, 2006

When this report discusses a ‘reading culture’ it is an ‘environment where reading is championed, valued, respected, and encouraged’ (Hawthorne, 2001).

Approachphoto of a book

We promoted the book club to all students at the college from the start of the new academic year. We made a PowerPoint presentation and sent it to the vocational teachers at the college, who then shared this with students as part of the college induction week. The PowerPoint included a contact email address and students were asked to send an email if they were interested in joining. We ensured that it was advertised to all students in induction week, regardless of their level of English. We wanted to nurture that love of reading they may already have had to promote a shift to a whole college reading culture.

Our first meeting was in the college library. We used A3 paper and post-it notes to gather information about the students’ reading habits and preferences and why they wanted to join the book club (see Appendix 2b). We also asked them where they would like to meet and how they would like to keep in touch between meetings.

At the students’ request, we set up a Google chat and Google classroom for everyone in the book club to keep in touch between meetings. We also used the poll function within Google chat to ask students’ views about book choices and meeting times (see appendices 2c and d).

We met once a month during the college lunch hour in a free classroom (as the students wanted somewhere quieter than the library). The meetings provided a friendly, inclusive space (complete with biscuits!) where students could discuss specific questions relating to the book, and then choose the next one to read. This provided an opportunity for students to voice their opinions in relation to the issues and topics that feature in the books. We used dialogic teaching to address social injustice and to empower our students (see Appendix 2f).
Questions that were very open and encouraged discussion worked well; they often focused on the characters’ morals or how the students would react if they were placed in similar situations. Sometimes the questions would be more challenging for example: “How does the need to endlessly move and consume create inequality?” (based on the Mortal Engines novel).

Before the first meeting, we had chosen four books that we knew were accessible, explored open themes and were available on Kindle and as PDF and audiobook versions to ensure accessibility. The project leader chose the first book (Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo) as students were quite shy at the start. We purchased enough copies of the books to ensure that everyone had their own.

We continually took on board students’ views on the running of the club and the literature we would read. Their ideas were captured on Google chat as well as being recorded in the monthly meetings. This allowed all participants to feel involved throughout the project.
Students were encouraged to tell their friends about the book club and, as a result, the number of students attending increased from five to ten as the word spread.
Between October and March, the students in the book club had read four different books (see Appendix 2e).

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Promoted from the start of year, the opportunity to attend a book club provided a more accessible approach to the teaching of reading, which can often be seen as an intimidating aspect of English. A dialogic teaching structure was needed, to ensure that the conversation was focused on the books we read. Questions taken from sites (see Appendix 2f), allowed teachers to create a more question and answer- based discussion with the students. Once the students had seen this modelled, teachers were able to ask one student each month to lead the questions themselves. This had a positive impact as this ensured that the meetings were less like a teacher-led lesson and more like a relaxed conversation between like-minded peers.

The teachers’ promotion of the book club gave students access to good quality, contemporary books. Some of the students worked collaboratively after having read the book and were able to offer suggestions to their teacher and fellow students on the text in question. Students offered suggestions about what books to read next, these were based on books they had heard of or were keen to read themselves.

While we envisaged that the students would complete more peer learning outside of the classroom as a result of the book club, this was not easily assessed and social interactions were the main interactions that continued, with students sharing what they were reading outside of the book club (see Appendix 2h).

We wanted the sharing of best practice to extend to other partner institutions to help promote reading for all students. The project lead has already liaised with one other college about running their own book club. We discussed with them what had worked well and, in return, they gave us some ideas on how we could improve this group even further and link it more to the curriculum in the future.

Attendance was monitored and feedback from the students gathered. Over the course of the action research project, there was a steady increase in attendance to 10 participants in total. To understand why and what it was that they enjoyed about the book club we asked students in Google Chat ‘Are you enjoying book club and if so, why?’ Here are a couple of the students’ responses:

Yes, I am enjoying it because it is a chance to make friends and talk about something I am interested in, I like reading. The book discussions are also fun, especially discussing the characters and the storylines. Also a chance to find new authors and books I may like.

– Book Club Student

I’m enjoying book club because we have some good discussions about the books we read and how well the characters in the books are presented.

– Book Club Student

Organisational Development

Our project was inclusive because we made sure the book club was available to all students at the college and we promoted it widely. There was also a strong focus on student voice throughout, as we actively sought their views at every stage, from when and how to meet to which books to read.

The project encouraged collaboration between the English department and staff from other areas of the college as the English teachers spoke to vocational teachers to ask them to promote the book club in their lessons.

The project promoted and celebrated different voices, perspectives and insights through the books we read and the discussions that followed at our weekly meetings. One student said that these meetings were:

A great place to talk about [how] I kind of picture the events in the book because of [my] autism, I picture it in my head like a movie, only quite blurry and fuzzy and a lot of the time I can only really imagine silhouettes of characters and images rather than actual detailed characters and objects. That said, if a character is actually described really well and sounds similar to a character from another story of media that I like, like an anime character, video game character, etc. then I tend to picture the described character as the character it reminds me of throughout the whole book. It was nice to hear that I’m not the only person who imagines things like this when we read.

Learning from this project

One aspect of the project that worked well was the use of Google Chat, which enabled us to monitor attendance, gauge how far along in the book they were and allowed all participants a chance to voice their opinions on the book. As time went on, we noticed that students gained confidence and engaged in discussions with less prompting than they did at the start. After a few months, some were confident enough to lead the questioning themselves.

We decided to work collaboratively with the students to select books, which worked well as it ensured the books covered a range of different genres. However, it did mean that the book lengths varied and some were simply too long for the students to read in a month.
If we were to begin this project again, it would be interesting to see if this book club had an effect on the students’ ability to analyse language on paper, as well as verbally. Ideally, we could have created an assessment at the beginning of the project and then at the end to compare results.

The project leader noticed that, as the book club went on and better relationships were formed, students were more willing to express individual opinions, even when those differed from the opinions of others in the group. This demonstrates the importance of getting relationships right within a classroom setting, to allow students to build their confidence in responding to questions honestly.

Initially, we had planned to work collaboratively with the library services at the college to carry out the promotion of the reading for pleasure book club and linking these to aspects of the classroom teaching. We hoped to work together with the County Council Local Libraries to widen participation, access to books and other community services. Unfortunately, this was not viable; instead, we had to order books in and the participants found our library to be too crowded for our purposes. The County Council Library did not have enough copies ready and so we decided to pay for books. This didn’t always work well as some months we waited a while for the books to arrive. Ideally, we would like to secure some funding from the college every year for this going forward. However, preferably, we would love to continue to work with the County Council with the eventual aim of being able to secure books from the County Library.

One of the main issues that we faced was the organising of the club around the students’ timetables. Students from different courses around the college have different timetables and some weren’t always able to attend. Ideally, in the future, we would love the college to be able to run three or four different book club groups in order to accommodate the timetable needs of as many different students as possible. In the future, it would be more beneficial to ensure we have one base room for the monthly meetings as this project has seen us use empty classrooms, which has not been ideal. Ideally, we would like to secure one classroom that can be used for the college book club going forward. We would love to be able to have one consistent classroom that could be used to host the meetings of different book clubs on different days.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    Our project provided us with the opportunity to offer a range of different text types to suit the students’ needs. We ensured that all books were available as audiobooks or PDFs if they had Irlens syndrome and needed a colour that suited their needs.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge

    Participants reported that they were more inclined to read outside of the classroom because of this group. The dialogic questioning used in the meetings inspired and motivated students to discuss themes, characters and vocabulary.

  • + Encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.

    Participants were encouraged to keep track of the reading they were doing in the form of a tracker and to write reviews of the books they had finished. Making notes in their books too.


Appendix 2: Learner Case StudiesAppendix

2a: Student responses to ‘Are you enjoying book club and why?’

Appendix 2b:Students’ responses to ‘Why did you want to join book club’?

Appendix 2c: Students’ responses to ‘what genres would you like to read/do you enjoy reading currently?’

Appendix 2d: An example of how Polly Bot was created and used in Google Chat to involve students.

Appendix 2e: A photo of some of the books different books the students read between October and March.

Appendix 2F: Questions used to guide discussion on Mortal Engines

Appendix 2g. An example of a student using Google Chat to refer a friend to the club

Appendix 2h. An example of a student using Google Chat


Clark, C., and Teravainen-Goff, A. (2020). ‘Children and young people’s reading in 2019. Findings from our annual literacy survey.’ National Literacy Trust: London.
Clark, C., and Rumbold, K. (2006). ‘Reading for pleasure: a research overview’. National Literacy Trust: London.

Hawthorne, H. (2021). High Speed Training. ‘How to promote a reading culture in schools’. Available at: [accessed 30.3.22].

Scholastic (2018) Mortal Engines. Available at: [Accessed 13.10.21]

University of Cambridge (2022). What is Dialogic Teaching? Available at:,%2C%20not%20just%20teacher%2Dpresentation. [accessed 13.5.22].

5c. Lincoln College

Mindset Over Mastery

Lincoln College

This project set out to investigate the effect of mindfulness activities on learner mindset and confidence. How important is the ability to remain calm and focused when writing compared to knowledge and skills? Which matters most – mindset or mastery?

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Learners currently face challenges related to their English skills which are preventing them from success in their vocational studies and gaining entry to their preferred next steps, be that employment, HE or Further Education. We wanted to explore the impact of tenacity and resilience on the achievements of learners with entry qualifications of GCSE grade 3 or below; not only as a way of improving grades but with the aim of encouraging learners to feel pride in their efforts and an increased confidence in their English ability, no matter what grade they achieved. A proportion of learners each year attend college following incomplete or non-traditional secondary education and there is an increase in the number of learners who have English as a second language in addition to those who did not achieve their desired grade. All of these learners face particular challenges which we hope will be improved with strategies for confidence and resilience.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. The action research took place in the English department at Newark and Lincoln, initially with a group of learners at each site which then developed to incorporate all 16-19 Study Programme learners. As a team, we met bi-weekly for an hour’s discussion and reflection as well as trialling mindful meditations. This enabled us to exchange ideas and support each other on a regular basis which resulted in increased confidence, engagement and commitment to the project.


  • our team at the college welcome eventThe project started with a general focus on positivity, reminding learners that failing is a part of learning. Our first lesson was writing a letter to our future selves using and encouraging learners to be reflective. We also had a presence at the college welcome event where we started building relationships with learners with fun games.
  • The next step was to trial a short meditation with a group of learners (one in a remote session and one face to face.) We identified what worked well and what didn’t and fed back to the team in our OTLA 8 meetings. We also read the same meditation to staff so they could see how to deliver it and to enable them to experience the possible benefits.
  • Learners in different classes at both Newark and Lincoln sites took part in meditations before writing activities. Some teachers felt more comfortable playing relaxing music instead of a meditation and we asked learners to submit ideas for a mindful music playlist. This was part of a Paper 2, Question 5 assessment on Viewpoint writing. Their a learner from our projectresponses, along with reviews of their favourite songs as well as the play lists were developed into a pamphlet to celebrate students’ work. (Appendix 2)
  • We developed a ‘mindful’ lesson and all the team tried it with their learners. This incorporated a nature walk in the college grounds using the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding approach. Back in the classroom, we gave learners an image to use as a visualisation, asking them to ‘put themselves’ in the picture describing what they could see using the senses. The learners’ work was collated and incorporated into the Association of Colleges Creative ‘LoveOurColleges’ Writing Project which was then turned into a ‘souvenir’ book, created, and designed by media learners. (Appendix 2)
  • We collected feedback from learners using a range of methods. Firstly, with a face-to-face discussion which we recorded and transcribed and secondly with an electronic Microsoft Form with qualitative questions which we shared with all learners. A short video interview was also recorded with learner A (Appendix 3) who found mindfulness to be particularly beneficial and was keen to share her views.

A flowchart documenting our research project approach

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

As a team, we committed to improving our knowledge and awareness of mindfulness through our dedicated time for teaching, learning and assessment (Golden Hour). We used this space to try out meditations, reflect on our research and create resources. It was particularly our team doing some relaxation tasks (yoga)effective for encouraging and supporting the team, especially those teachers who felt less confident to deliver meditations but were happy to contribute in other ways in the form of reading texts in a slower, more mindful way.

Golden Hour also allowed us to share ideas such as the best YouTube videos for music for concentrating. Teachers reported that students responded well to Lofi (a blend of chilled out beats without lyrics) which suits most musical tastes.

Towards the end of the project, the English team took part in a yoga and mindfulness workshop delivered by an external professional which gave us a new crop of ideas such as the importance of re-energising students through movement or by clapping their hands or arms in addition to calming them.

students practicing relaxation tasksEnglish teachers were given a Mindfulness resource kit (Cards Against Anxiety) and we are currently assessing how to use them most effectively in the classroom.

As a team, we realised collectively, that the biggest gains of mindfulness came from using it with writing skills. This led us to link the two ideas using visualisations. We used a carefully chosen image and asked learners to imagine they were in the picture by reading out a set of questions encouraging them to think about what they could, see, hear, feel, taste and touch. Later on, we added sounds and music to enhance their experience further. This had a noticeable impact which became apparent in the mock exams.

It showed that learners have connected with the idea of writing using the senses following the work on visualisations and ‘putting yourself in the picture’. We developed this further to use in our Easter revision sessions called ‘Classtonbury’. The session was delivered in a sensory room with low lights and comfortable seating to induce a mindful atmosphere. We used a picture of a circus to coincide with our festival theme and this changed midway to represent the inside of the tent and at this point we introduced a short burst students practicing relaxation tasksof overwhelming circus music. It was also used within the classroom after Easter for those who didn’t attend Classtonbury.

Work samples show that this method of writing in class has been well adopted by students who struggle to start a story or description. They can transplant the ideas created in the classroom directly into their writing and can re-use or adapt a phrase each time they begin writing. An example from the case study of Ben Harris (Appendix 2) clearly shows this: ‘the wind rustling the fallen leaves next to the dilapidated wall’ in the mock exam also appeared in his most recent question 5 practice: ‘I can hear the rustling of the leaves on the trees’ In the May example, Ben was then able to develop his response by adding more detail about what he could see ‘I look around and see a squirrel running up a tree then a family of owls nesting in the trunk.’ In his baseline assessment, Ben struggled to add this level of detail which minimised how much he could write.

Organisational Development

Within the organisation there has been continuing interest in the project and we have been sharing our findings through cross-college Golden Hour and workshop led training days as well as delivering short meditations to staff in other departments. The Construction department has expressed an interest in developing techniques to support bricklayers as thereflections from a teacher on the project workshop is such a noise filled environment. One of the bricklaying tutors shared this relaxation video of brickwork sounds and we will be working together to see if it helps with learner focus and concentration.

The exams office has also been keen to work with us to incorporate elements of mindfulness to reduce exam stress. They investigated with JCQ the possibility of playing mindful music as learners enter the exam hall and although this was not possible within the regulations, we will be working together to provide a calming environment for learners immediately before they enter the exam. Members of the English department are delivering a training session to the exams department after Easter on how to support learners in distress, which will begin with a meditation delivered to participants so they can appreciate the benefits of mindfulness. (Appendix 4, shows feedback from the examination manager following the session.)

Throughout the project, updates have been shared on the organisation’s internal Facebook (Workplace) to promote, highlight and inform others about the project.

A member of the quality team has also expressed interest in setting up a college mindful ‘community of practice’ to share and support the introduction of mindfulness in the classroom.

reflections from a teacher on the project

Learning from this project

The action research project has changed the way, as an English department, we think, plan and approach our lessons. Low impact music without lyrics such as Lofi (Appendix 5) has become a staple in our classroom whenever there is a period of concentration required. Learners enjoy being given a calm environment to work in and most learners actively ask for the music to be put on. Students have submitted songs that help them study to a Padlet which we will use to give students a choice in what they listen to (Appendix 5). We have also learned to slow down in our speech and especially when reading texts. This came directly from reading out meditations during the project and it has a dual benefit in that it not only helps the learner to focus on the text more clearly but also acts as a mini meditation to calm and focus them.

We will continue to use visualisations and layer them with sounds to create an almost 3D experience as a stimulus for writing and we intend to create a resource bank with different settings. It has proved an invaluable method to not only increase confidence but as an accessible activity for all levels of learners. Walks outside or visits to The Collection (a local museum) will also become a more regular element of our lessons.

Some teachers will continue to develop their delivery of mindful meditations at key points within the year, such as, before assessments or at the start of term. However, others now feel more confident to approach it in their own way or simply play mindful music.

Personal reflection

As we near the end of the project, it has moved on beyond our initial aim of encouraging learners to be more resilient and mindful. Two separate branches have developed from the Mindset Over Mastery Tree. Firstly, the organisation is increasingly recognising the value and potential of mindfulness as a tool to combat stress and anxiety – not only for students, but equally for staff. It is a bold statement; however, I am confident that this project has increased awareness of mindfulness in the classroom and encouraged discussion and creativity about how it could be best employed. The second branch is specifically connected to English and the effectiveness of using mindful techniques as a method of improving writing. Using images, sounds and thinking about the senses acts, in some small way, as a replacement for cultural capital. Students who have not been to the beach, or walked in a wood, or visited a circus have nothing in their memory banks to call on when asked to describe these images. Giving learners additional stimuli immediately before the act of writing frees them from the embarrassment of not knowing what to write.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    Our project provided time and space for us to come together as a teaching team to create opportunities for mindfulness, not only in our own practice but in those of our students. By engaging in research activity and asking learners for their perspectives, we were able to understand how much learners valued being given a quiet time for reflection as well as the importance of a calm learning environment.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of leaners through your enthusiasm and knowledge

    Throughout the year, learners have had access to a range of experiences not normally associated with the English classroom. Going outside the classroom to walk through nature provided them with a memorable link that they have been able to call on repeatedly in their writing.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners

    As a team, the project has given us an opportunity to meet regularly to discuss and feedback on teaching and learning. We felt revitalised by the freedom to try something different and reflect on its impact.

  • 11. Manage and promote positive learner behaviour

    Using meditations with students was, at times, challenging. However, the result afterwards was always a calmer and more focused classroom which improved learner behaviour.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    Students have begun to feel more confident after seeing their writing skills improve. Where once they would have struggled to start, they have reported that writing about the senses greatly helps them feel in control of what they are doing. This in turn, motivates them to do better and creates an enthusiasm to keep aiming for a higher grade.


Appendix 2: Learner Work

Appendix 3: Feedback

Appendix 3: Team Feedback

Appendix 5: The use of music as mindfulness

Appendix 6: Visualisation Resources


Duckworth, A. (2017) Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, London: Vermillion

Dweck, C.S. (2012) How you can Fulfil Your Potential, London: Robinson

OTLA 7 (2021) Resilience, Sheffield College. Accessible at

5b. Leicester College

Improving writing through teaching
grammar and style within the context of
authentic texts

Leicester College

This project aimed to move away from the traditional pattern of teaching writing. It focused on supporting learners to use studied texts as a starting point for discussing their writing choices. Learning was scaffolded to evaluate and develop specific parts of learners’ writing. There was progress in the phrasing and structure of learners’ writing, as well as improvement in their confidence in these skills.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Our thinking was informed by Myhill’s research (Making Meaning with Grammar: A repertoire of possibilities, 2011) with a focus on using selected grammatical structures from authentic texts to improve writing, rather than traditional discreet grammatical teaching. We considered that this would allow learners to see reading and writing as inextricably linked and encourage them to begin to see themselves as writers, making some of those same choices in their own writing, thus leading to improvements in writing quality.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. Leicester College is a large multi-cultural inner city FE college, with several campuses. Most of the project focused on one campus where courses are mostly vocational and four learners, from the construction department, were approached to participate as part of a steering group. Also included were three adult learners from the online GCSE; these learners had elected to complete the qualification. Two others from a different campus were asked in January, as numbers were reduced after the November exam results. As the course materials had been rewritten to allow Myhill’s principles to be embedded and used for the whole cohort, views of staff from all three campuses were considered.

It became apparent that we need to acknowledge that this cohort is not the traditional grade 3 standard. The data reflects what we believed. We had entered 496 learners for the November exam: 8% achieved only grade 1 and 10% achieved a grade 2. These lower-level learners found it very difficult to articulate and discuss their grammatical choices, making the teachers’ job even harder than usual.


Our research was based on the promising results from Myhill’s research with schools. Although her participants were younger and had more lessons per week, we felt that we could apply some of the principles in the two hours a week that we had with our learners. We chose to apply the principles that we considered would have the greatest impact. Debra Myhill supported us throughout the research and herself advised that discussion was the most critical principle, particularly as the age group was different to those in her own research. She was available via email for us if we needed clarification or help and, before the project started, we were able to have a conversation with her over video call about the research.

Stage 1
The research began with some adult learners who were on the online GCSE course. These were very motivated and articulate. Our rationale was that the 16-18s were all being prepared to sit the November exam and we needed to focus on covering the whole syllabus in six weeks. These learners formed part of our stage 2 approach.

Authentic texts used for reading sessions served as a basis for learners’ writing. They were encouraged to be more imaginative in their choices and used these texts to mimic textual structures, particular phrases found in certain textual formats, and sentence construction. In addition, they were helped to examine choices that writers had made from authentic texts used in the lessons and to discuss why these choices may have been made, using principle three of Myhill’s research: ‘Build in high-quality discussion about grammar and its effects’.

This led on to the practical application of that learning in the writing part of each session. For example:

  • writing a section from a different viewpoint or in a different tense
  • using creative imitation, for instance to mimic a textual structure and sentence construction
  • improving and rewriting sections of writing after discussion and targeted feedback.

Stage 2
After the November exam, we had the opportunity to review how directed study was working. Learners who were making the expected progress and completing independent directed study to a good standard, remained on this timetable. However, learners who were not making progress, or not completing directed study on a regular basis, were placed in a supervised directed study session. These provided further opportunity for discussion with learners and for them to experiment with texts and target specific areas of their writing.

In December 2021, the Skills for Life team were contacted with resources and help given, to enable them to join with us to apply and look at the impact of some of these principles. They did not participate directly in the research but did begin to apply many of our suggestions in their teaching.

The rest was continued as above, although some participants were able to complete in January 2022, as they had passed the November exam and were no longer on the qualification.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

We achieved all our objectives and we feel that we have a framework that will be even more successful next academic year, once we are back in the classroom for two sessions each week, as that would give us more chance for discussion and explanation.

Every learner found it helpful to ‘borrow’ from authentic texts and to play around with grammatical structures in their own writing and again these learners reported that they felt less ‘overwhelmed’ by the writing process and more able than before to write something with a hint of style. Within class, all were able to discuss their choices and improve paragraphs to a much higher standard. All students were then able to apply this to longer pieces of writing, although the standard was not always maintained. However, their writing generally improved; it was no longer fossilised.

Results in writing tasks proved more creative from an early point in the year than usual, because of the mimicking of writing styles. Many learners have performed better in Paper 1 writing assessments in exam conditions than we have seen in recent years. In every case, learners have improved their writing in class and in mock exams, but some improved significantly. The minimum improvement from the diagnostic writing at the start of the year for those in the steering group (who sat the mock exam), was a 12% increase [+3], with the highest increase being 32.5% [+13]. Although those figures reflected all steering group members across two sites and including the adults, they were mirrored when we split the results between the two sites. More details on individual improvements, and examples of learner writing and comments from them, are included in the appendices.

Pleasingly, Freeman’s Park Campus learners had performed well with all taking the final assessment and achieving the above, (see Appendix 2). Exam pressure seemed to reduce the standard compared to what they had been able to complete in less pressured settings; we must remember that this cohort of 16-18s have been severely impacted by the pandemic and sat very few exams as a result. However, they were able to apply some of what they had learned, with one in particular improving radically.

Abbey Park Campus included the adult online learners who were undertaking distance learning. However, one 16-18 learner chose to leave the mock assessment due to anxiety and did not complete it, and the adult learners involved had started at a far higher level, but there was still a 22.5% to 25% increase from their diagnostic writing, (see Appendix 2).

Impact on Staff

Three teachers have been fully involved in this research with each having learners who had agreed to be part of the steering group. However, the whole team has been teaching in this way throughout the year, as the resources that were written before teaching began were written with these principles embedded. All staff attended an East Midlands Regional Network event with Debra Myhill as the guest speaker, on Strategies to Improve Learner Writing. They also watched further podcasts and read a precis of her research for delivering teaching in this way, prior to the start of teaching and before the research. Professor Debra Myhill herself has been keen to support us in our research and has given advice on how to apply the principles to this young adult cohort.

Staff who are active participants have responded that they have felt more involved, supported and valued than usual. One felt that:

‘the framework of the project has allowed everybody to feel ‘equal’ ‘.

They feel that this is the beginning of something that is effective, and they are pleased that we plan to continue this approach in the next academic year. More detailed responses are included in Appendix 3.

We were able to broadcast our research at a national level as a member of our team also works part time for Edexcel and was asked to present our research at Edexcel’s national webinar to 65 delegates, which was well received.

Staff have attended training on developing writing delivered by the ETF. One recently elected to do more training on Development Day. The Project Lead attended Investigating Grammar – Supporting Your Learners to Understand How Texts Work and Developing Grammar for Reading and Writing. This was disseminated to the full team, who had been unable to attend.

Overall, staff felt that this method has applied better to imaginative writing (than transactional), given our time constraints of one lesson a week this year; it has certainly been easier to teach and monitor the impact. However, in terms of results in mocks, we have seen a strong increase in scores for Paper 2 (transactional writing); perhaps the modelling of phrases and textual format fed into increased results there. Going forward, we can look again at how we can better embed it into transactional writing resources also, with the re-introduction of two lessons a week next academic year along with the removal of directed study, there will be more time for discussion and detailed feedback.

Impact on students

Typical responses from 16-18 steering group members are:

  • So many of the forced resit students have taken the GCSE 3-5 times (if they have been entered for November exams) and have lost hope in their abilities. However, being approached to be part of a steering group and having regular discussions about their work and grammatical choices has meant that all learner participants have reacted well to this attention and seem to be beginning to believe that they can improve.
  • Staff observed that, with these ‘stepping stones’ to their ultimate goal, learners have begun to see the link between reading and writing, which has helped them to begin to see themselves as writers; their writing has improved. They also feel that learners initially joined the research to help us, but have discovered the benefit and are now totally committed to this process.
  • Students fed back that authentic texts give them a structure and a framework as a starting point. They have clearer options and the development and rewriting of one or two paragraphs, rather than the whole, has meant that it is not so ‘overwhelming’.
  • The adult learners involved responded well, although they naturally took part in less ‘discussion’. This was via online chat initially. To facilitate this, we recently created an online group tutorial session for discussions and support. This has proved so effective that this will be included in next year’s programme for this course.

Organisational Development

A range of learners was considered. From the Online GCSE our adults range from 19-50. This was offered to all, but only some females agreed to join. With our mainstream 16-18s, Freemen’s Park Campus learners were asked, both male and female but only males responded. Learners were selected because we felt that they would be honest and were attending classes regularly.

We have positive and collaborative relationships with the three other parts of our college who teach GCSE English Language, but, whilst they were keen to learn from us and were sent detailed information on our research and given access to Myhill’s research, they did not want to play an active part, becoming indirect participants. Firstly, the GCSE team within the Skills for Life Department have been applying some of the suggestions for improving writing and have also been developing reading using suggestions which we shared with them from the Project Lead’s time as an Edexcel examiner.

Secondly, in the ESOL Department, the GCSE teacher, has been applying the discussion principle, however much of her teaching of grammar must be discreet, given the needs of their learners. Time has been set aside to collaborate with these departments to share our findings.

Finally, throughout the year I have had positive and constructive conversations with my counterpart in Functional Skills. She has also applied the idea of using authentic texts as a basis for her learners, but again, was not an active participant.

Learning from this project

We discovered that, as a team, we were naturally reflective practitioners, it was embedded in our practice, but this was an opportunity to reflect weekly on the application of broader principles.

What went well

  • Using the same text for both the reading and writing lessons proved helpful in providing a good example that could be mimicked or borrowed from, in terms of words, structure and rhetorical devices.
  • Learners felt valued and involved in the process and were better able to articulate their thoughts.
  • Learners began to believe that they could write.
  • Learners felt less overwhelmed by the writing tasks and the blank page. They were given a starting place that felt achievable.
  • Learners began to see themselves as writers and to think about their writing choices and to experiment with writing in different ways and styles. It gave them a framework.
  • Students gained in confidence and their ability to use style in the writing improved. It also had the added benefit of them spotting more devices and style, in the reading texts from established writers that we used, thus increasing their scores in the reading section.

Even better if

  • Our understanding of the research and how it would be applied, has developed throughout the year. As we wrote all the study guides in June and July 2021, our ideas have changed. Going forward we will be more explicit about which grammatical structures we choose to concentrate on making it clearer in next year’s resources.
  • The time frame was short and we had to write the materials before we had fully grasped the principles. Not all staff who were involved in writing the course materials had fully grasped the ideas so a small amount of material was ‘misguided’ leading to plagiarism, rather than a base from which to mimic grammatical structures.
  • It would have been better to have begun this across all cohorts at the start of the year. However, we had entered everyone for the November exam so could only start with the adult online GCSE learners, which limited its scope. Next year, we are not entering students en masse and so will be able to be more playful with texts from the onset.
  • The project had to start before we could choose our learners with any insight, so sometimes our choices were, in hindsight, not the best.

Professional Development

By its nature, our research applied a theoretical understanding of effective practice in teaching, learning and assessment, as we drew upon Myhill’s research and sought to apply some principles of it, albeit differently, to our context. We have chosen to focus on three professional standards. Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners.

    Engaging in this research has enabled us to focus on the particular needs of learners on one campus, whilst applying it to two other groups of learners, who are more academic. We have been able to judge whether our research has made a difference to writing that, for many, had appeared ‘fossilised’.

    Using existing research by Myhill’s team which was conducted on a younger cohort with more regular English lessons, we have been able to apply some of the principles and measure their impact on students. It has meant that learners were able to have a dialogue with teachers on how they learn and what has helped them.

    The steering group’s responses and regular feedback ‘in the moment’, enabled us to build upon the research and apply it more specifically to the learners in our college.
    We have been better able to appreciate learners’ reactions to the chosen texts and to the way that these have been applied.

    We have already begun to make changes to the way that we teach and amend resources, in view of these.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    As reflective practitioners, we review, improve and rewrite our resources every year to continue to meet the diverse needs of our learners. Our evaluative process is always rigorous; we try to make changes to value cultural diversity, to motivate and connect with our learners, who have often lost interest and hope. However, this research gave us the time to evaluate throughout the year in a meaningful way and to gather students’ views too.

    It was helpful to challenge our own views of what would work. We are keen to act on the recommendations of the steering group and embed this research further. Staff fed back that they feel better teachers now that they have the choice to explore, put into practice and then properly reflect on individual professional practice. We also feel that this has helped us to be more collaborative and has prepared us for the trial of changing to a new specification of the GCSE at this campus.

  • 3. Inspire, motivate and raise aspirations of learners through your enthusiasm and knowledge.

    Staff observed that, because we taught generally demotivated resit students, in some cases we had reduced our expectations of our students’ capabilities and therefore reduced the challenge too much. However, this research has re-envisioned and re-enthused staff, as well as students.

    It also provided the chance to break the traditional pattern of teaching writing; much of this was a challenge for our teachers. We are beginning to gently push learners more and expect more of them. This research has created a space for 1:1 time with individual learners and this discussion of writing choices has been critical to the improvements seen in students’ writing.
    Being involved in the steering group with a view to making changes, has proved motivating for learners. Some of these have begun to acknowledge that they are improving and have shared that the writing process is now feeling less ‘overwhelming’ as they can ‘borrow’ some style from the texts that they consider in class. This increased enthusiasm and recognition that that the teachers are undertaking research has begun to make a positive difference to learners’ attitudes.


This project was carried out (and report written) by Caroline Weedon (Project Lead) and Michelle Bilby (Project Deputy) alongside their project team: Maria Leah, Rehana Pirmahomed and Beth Kemp.

With thanks to their mentor Dianne Robinson and Research Group Lead Claire Callow, for their support.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Staff responses on the impact of the research on them


Myhill, D. et al, (2011), mETAphor Issue 2, ‘Making Meaning with Grammar: A repertoire of possibilities’, University of Exeter [Accessed April 2021] [Accessed April 2021]
[Accessed 4 November 2021]

5a. Hull College

Developing Resilience through Prose

Hull College

This project aimed to consciously develop student resilience through the presentation and writing of prose in the GCSE English curriculum. We specifically focused on resilience as a curriculum theme and measured the impact of this on the learners.

Would developing the concept of resilience in the curriculum promote resilient thinking?

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Hull is a deprived city and our students often struggle with the problems that emerge from this, including lower than national average academic educational achievement, behavioural problems and, as a result, low attendance. Learners’ experience of English can often be negative, as they either see themselves as failures or they don’t see the relevance of the core English skills. Much of the work of the English team, therefore, focuses on student well-being and confidence building. Alongside this, we work to develop key English skills to enable students to maximise their opportunities in their careers and, more broadly, in their lives. English presents a unique opportunity to explore ideas of resilience within the curriculum. We aimed to use the presentation and production of prose as a method for learners to consciously think about resilience as a route to challenging themselves, focusing on a group of ‘Special Educational Needs and Disabilities’ (SEND) /Employability learners. We took as an initial starting point The Sheffield College’s OTLA 7 project on building resilience through the development of mindsets. Though our approach differed, we were inspired by their use of the language of resilience. We were also inspired by the project-based learning approach developed by Ron Berger in which learners are encouraged to produce beautiful meaningful work.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. Our research focused on six core groups of learners, shared by three staff members. The learners were all based in our Employability/SEND department. Many learners are identified as high-needs, with 20% having Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs). A disproportionately large number of the learners had left school prior to exams owing to behavioural issues. Their low-grade profile reflects learning loss through the pandemic. Initial assessments revealed almost all the learners were working at entry level for English.


The project started with the presentation of texts which told a story of a character struggling against difficulty. This included the writing of Beryl Bainbridge, survivor on the Titanic, the story of Lewis Daynes and the murder of Breck Bednar, in addition to extracts from a range of fiction texts. This then prompted discussions about resilience before the regular analytical work took place.

When students undertook creative writing, it was as a story of resilience; the characters they created were dealing with conflict and had to choose how to act in the face of difficulty. Learners developed ideas from prompts before working collaboratively to develop their narratives.

English skills trackerInterestingly, in the collaboration process learners were almost always increasing the conflict faced by the protagonists and, crucially, actively generating ideas together on how the characters would deal with the challenge. For example, one learner’s story – ‘Late for the Exam’ – began with his character missing a bus. By the end of the development phase, the character also had to deal with rude bus drivers, losing money, sitting next to an unruly toddler and dropping his phone at the entrance to college. Each of these challenges had a corresponding character reaction followed by an active discussion regarding coping strategies which the character might use to deal with the conflict. Perhaps most encouragingly (and unexpectedly), learners ‘allowed’ the character to get angry and react badly to situations but ensured that this was followed by an apology or moment of regret and contrition. This was an entirely learner-led discussion and we, as a staff team, were impressed by the learners’ sympathetic understanding of negative feelings as being a temporary, but entirely human event.

Creative writing was structured through our WEST method (Words, Emotions, Structure and Techniques). A prompt word would be presented (for example, ‘Danger’). Learners generated personal connotations from this based on their own experiences. A story structure was then drafted before specific prose techniques were purposefully added for effect. This framework was designed to encourage emotional literacy and language sophistication in the work of the learners.

A selection of our research group of learners engaged with the First Story project, which aimed to develop emotional literacy through poetry and prose, reinforcing many of the themes developed in class.

English skills trackerWe observed that learners were struggling to readjust to the classroom setting and, following such a long period of disruption to their learning routines, were missing fundamental English skills. We rebuilt our delivery to focus on incremental skills development, creating a skills-tracker which was referenced in every lesson (see below and Appendix 3). This allowed us to track progress and focus on the incremental steps to develop their skills further. Alongside this we were mindful of the language used and ensured we remained positive and forward thinking.

Feedback was collected from students and staff on the project at two different points, with a focus on written testimony.

The culmination of the project was the creation of a book of creative writing by the learners on the theme of resilience. This was produced entirely by the learners in our core group and included a launch event to which parents/carers and other college staff were invited.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The teachers involved in the project were all highly skilled, experienced practitioners and were proficient in developing learners’ confidence in English. They reported that the specific focus on resilience as a theme in the curriculum positively impacted their practice as skilled practitioners, they allowed the project to take unexpected turns. For example, one teacher’s use of the ‘cut up’ technique of creative writing (see Appendix 3.D) enabled a disengaged learner to communicate his feelings through assembly of language, rather than the anxieties that can come with language generation.

The group of staff engaged in the project were a close team and had been successfully working together to develop resources and curriculum for many years. Through their involvement in the project, this collaboration has expanded to include conversations on how the resilience of the learners can be developed in the class, and discussions around feelings complement the academic discussion whilst also supporting the learners as people.
Covid-related staff absence had a significant impact on the project during the winter months. The wider discussions which occurred on the theme of resilience and the focus on emotional literacy in the classroom helped both staff and students through a difficult period of disruption to learning. Agency staff also reported that learners were understanding, respectful and showed genuine empathy for the welfare of their teachers.

The development of an explicitly skill-focused curriculum has been transformative. Staff found that it enabled them to provide specific feedback, more effective formative assessment and links to vocational areas leading to increased learner confidence.

Perhaps most surprising has been the opportunity to discuss the emotional journey with learners. We assumed at the start of the project that we would simply focus on the idea of resilience and measure our attempts to develop this. In reality, the project became about emotional literacy, through creative prose – an approach which enabled learners to explore their feelings indirectly through a fictional creation. This was simply done by asking them how they felt about their writing and the characters they had created (see Appendix 2 for case studies), something we had never done before, but which provided rich opportunities for discussion and relationship development.

As previously mentioned, staff-student relationships were significantly developed as a consequence of the project. Providing feedback and having class discussions based not just on the technical elements of the written prose, but the emotional motivations of the characters and authors created a space in the classroom for emotional literacy to grow. When coupled with discussions of ‘difficulty’ in the context of the conflict characters faced this provided a valuable opportunity for learners to talk about issues they may be facing in the second or third person. The abstraction of story writing gave them a degree of cover to send their own feelings into that world and receive supportive responses from their peers (see Appendix 2.A for a case study example).

We discovered that learners have an intuitive understanding of allegory. When, as part of the research, we collected feedback from the learners, many pointed out that the most fantastical story events – for example, an attack on a school by an invading army – were developed from an honest emotional nucleus of the learner (in this case the anxieties brought on by encountering a bully again). This late-stage discovery points to a fascinating future approach to developing emotionally authentic stories which enables learners to explore their feelings.

Organisational Development

  • The writing will be collected into an anthology and will be produced in collaboration with art students in the college. This will then be shared with all learners and will form a reference for next year’s learners.
  • The ‘Skills Builder’ will become our main learner assessment/diagnostic tool, and learning undertaken in college (whether in English lessons or other curriculum areas) will be used to record progress whilst encouraging learners to draw links between their vocational course and English.
  • The focus on emotional literacy/resilience for one term will continue. However, we are integrating other ‘lenses’ into our scheme of work in an effort to develop learners as people. This may include a term in which the ‘lens’ or theme around learning is, for example, self-esteem or aspiration.
  • We will develop the idea of emotional feedback/discussion in all areas of the curriculum. This will be expanded further into the SEND area and our Functional Skills delivery. A future development project is to create a process/language for this which effectively steers learners through the emotional contexts of the lesson content.

Learning from this project

Alongside other measures we have seen a steady increase in learner predicted achievement (for our research groups, learners predicted ‘At Risk’ reduced by 30% in the period of November – February). Though it is difficult to separate our research from other initiatives our qualitative feedback has demonstrated that learners are more confident in talking about the things they find difficult emotionally.

We discovered through our research that:

  • Learners are innately creative and empathetic. Their narrative choices – however simple – seem to be drawn from their own emotional experiences. Recognising this when developing prose had the dual effect of improving their writing and developing their resilience.
  • All teachers should be discussing emotions when using both fictional and non-fictional texts in lessons. Discussions which tie motivations of characters/people to their actions provide learners with an opportunity to reflect on the impact of positive and negative feelings in their own lives. This approach could be developed with its own framework, structure or language, providing a real opportunity for practitioners to make an impact on the inner lives of their learners.
  • Resilience isn’t an easily defined concept. The concept of ‘recovery’ or ‘toughness’ as part of resilience invites unhelpful expectations on how people are expected to react to difficult situations. We experienced learners using phrases such as “I’m not resilient enough”, as if measuring themselves against an undefined standard. It quickly became clear to us that a better approach is to focus on the emotional journeys people are on, the choices they can make and how these can be explored. The more useful term is emotional literacy. Emotional literacy is defined as “recognising emotions, managing our own emotions, recognising emotions in others and developing strategies to cope and deal with these emotions.” (Waterhouse, 2019, p. 10).
  • Emotional literacy can be developed in much the same way as literacy can. By exposure to examples (stories in which characters are dealing with difficulties and the feelings that come from this) and then discussion of those examples (how are the characters dealing with these feelings? Is this helpful?) learners are encouraged to reflect on their own feelings. The opportunity to then create prose in which these feelings can be successfully managed empowers the learner to create their own frameworks for coping with difficulty.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the needs of your learners.

    Our project gave staff an opportunity to pause in their practice and look at the curriculum they were presenting in a different way. The theme of resilience offered another take on how they delivered curriculum, and was an opportunity to rethink their approach to teaching.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    Both the focus on skills in the classroom and the promotion of emotional reflection in writing developed the motivation of learners, with tangible results in the standard of their written work. Furthermore, the positive impact on staff-student relationships as a consequence of the project inspired learners and challenged their attitudes to English.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    Learners were challenged to write in a way and to a higher standard than before. They worked co-operatively and independently and saw their work published – something they never had considered possible.


Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Supporting Documents


Berger, R. (2003) An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. New York: Heinemann.
Duckworth, A. (2017) Grit: Why passion and resilience are the secrets to success, London: Vermillion
OTLA 7 (2020) Sheffield College: Resilience, available on
Education and Training Foundation (2014) Professional Standards for Teachers and Trainers in Education and Training, available on: ETF_Professional_Standards_Digital_FINAL.pdf ( [accessed: 11.11.2020]
Waterhouse, A. (2019) Emotional Literacy: Supporting Emotional Health and Wellbeing in School. Abingdon: Routledge

4c: Preston College

Freewriting: a Key to Unlocking Our GCSE English Resit Learners

Preston College

This project explored breaking down barriers to writing and empowering learners to explore and trust their own thoughts and ideas. By responding to prompts, learners soon produced creative stories with relative ease, and some were able to write stories that meet the requirement for GCSE grade 5 and above.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Too often, learners studying English arrive with a fixed mindset of failure; ‘I failed before, so I’m just not good at it’. This mindset shifts focus to confidence and resilience-building, curtailing already limited time to practise and improve reading and writing.
Typically, the creative writing component of the GCSE course is met with much resistance. Creative Writing is often perceived as ‘foreign ground’ or an ‘unnatural component’. Learners seem to perceive it as one step too far. Most are reluctant to put pen to paper and those who do get caught up in self-doubt, self-editing, and fear of being judged.
This project sought to ‘unlock’ behaviours associated with a fixed mindset. We aimed to convert learners to a growth mindset where they can:

  • think of themselves as writers
  • develop the positive habit of writing creatively for their own interest and enjoyment
  • meet the GCSE English Language criteria by writing a clear, descriptive, creative story that demonstrates a good standard of skills.

Our inspiration was Peter Elbow’s ‘Writing Without Teachers’ (1973). Chapter 2 starts, ‘Most people’s relationship to the process of writing is one of helplessness.’ That’s where we were. (See Appendix 3: Project Lead’s inspiration and reflection).

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme. Four teachers participated from the English Department at Preston College, a general further education college in Lancashire. We worked primarily with L1, 2 and 3 GCSE English learners, but included a non-accredited SEND group and, later, an accredited Functional Skills English SEND group.

Our mission at Preston College is, ‘making our learners the most employable, now and in the future.’ As English skills play an important role in our learners’ employability, it is taught as a core subject, essential for employment and higher education. Teaching staff are well-equipped to contend with ‘resit’ culture and the college’s core values create a strong foundation as we aspire not only to teach English, but to build our learners’ confidence and resilience along the way.


Initially, learners were given an A5 notebook with a creative handwritten depiction of the narrative story arc and one of two quotes on the cover: ‘You can make anything by writing’ by C.S. Lewis and ‘Writing is the best way to talk without being interrupted’ by Jules Renard.

Learners also had access to ‘fancy’ coloured gel pens for their freewriting. Every writing session began with a set prompt, chosen by the teacher. Learners were instructed to write without stopping for ten minutes. The following parameters were given: no worrying about spelling, punctuation, and grammar; no talking; no questions; no editing; just writing until the timer stops.

Teachers aimed to complete the freewriting exercises with learners and make observations of their reactions to the exercises. We recorded whether they wrote intermittently, continuously, or not at all. We recorded whether they engaged in any resistant behaviour or low-level disruption, such as talking, asking questions or use of mobile phones, and physical behaviours like getting out of their seats or fidgeting. Learners were told that notebooks would be anonymised, and that self and peer review activities would take place later in the process.

As the project evolved, we found that we could not make adequate observations and complete the freewriting exercises. Writing continuously and in silence did not meet the needs of our learners and seemed to increase resistance, so we opened up to a variety of methods. Some parts were done in silence, some with discussion. We collected learner feedback and responded to concerns about how we were approaching the freewriting. We opened up to questioning and increased the time and frequency of the freewriting, got rid of the timer, and linked the freewriting to session content, images, or let learners choose from a list of their own prompts. Some groups engaged in sharing their writing when comfort levels allowed, and some opted to share verbally and through discussion. Some preferred not to share.

When we began the narrative writing aspect of our research as a department, the freewriting book became ‘the notebook’ where learners did their freewriting, starters, and creative writing. The freewriting was then integrated seamlessly into both reading and writing lessons, rather than perceived as a ‘stand-alone’ starter. Freewriting could be initiated at any point in the lesson, alongside other activities designed to improve learners’ creative writing.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Both teacher and learner participants recognised that, for the majority, practising freewriting before assessment had a positive impact on assessment performance. Improvement was noted across quality of content, spelling, punctuation, grammar, and word count for some learners. Learners articulated this improvement as a change in confidence, a way to get organised, calm down and prepare, adopting freewriting as a class ‘ritual’. The teacher participants also agreed that the freewriting has resulted in most learners engaging with and enjoying writing, and most responding to it with interest. Teacher participants reported positive outcomes of gaining opportunities for reflective practice, collaboration and collecting learner feedback as well as increased confidence in teaching story writing. The most inspiring outcome unfolding is that our learners want to write good, creative stories, full of surprises and palpable tension and description. In short, they now know that they are writers, and they have goals and aspirations.

The research team have observed the following early outcomes for learners:

  • Most learners no longer resist the practice of freewriting
  • Most learners have written at least one creative short story early on
  • Some GCSE learners have written outstanding stories, which would achieve high grade (5 and above) for GCSE English Language.

GCSE learners reported positive outcomes, including:

It’s helped:

  • me become creative with story writing
  • me to plan and organise my writing
  • to clear my mind
  • make my writing clearer.


  • working as a team to gather ideas was helpful
  • I liked to put the plan in my freewriting book
  • it gave time to think about the question
  • I like that we could write about anything
  • it released the mind of prior stress so, with the real question, I can improve on my writing.

SEND learners also reported positive outcomes, including:

  • increased confidence and willingness to share their writing with peers, family and friends
  • increased writing. Learners are now writing 2 – 3 pages
  • learners are asking questions around how to improve, without being prompted.

Organisational Development

This action research project has opened a collaborative space in our department. Teacher participants have enjoyed a monthly lunch meeting where we can share progress and challenges and brainstorm ways to approach shared objectives in future. We do not currently have any other meetings or spaces for this. We have established a collaborative community of practice, not only about teaching creative writing, but teaching the GCSE English and Functional Skills curriculum as a whole.

This community has enabled all participants to remain open and honest about our teaching as we share good practice and learn from each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This was particularly beneficial in terms of how learners were provided with prompts, how they gave feedback and how we recognised their writing. Resources were shared, tried, and amended. Lessons learned were disseminated and used to inform next steps.

Future plans include extending the project cross-college as online CPD training will be rolled out by the project team to help meet the OFSTED target of embedding English across Vocational areas. Both the Quality and research teams agree that this initiative will also foster good practice in terms of inter-department collaboration and support.

Learning from this project

See also Appendix 5: Uncomfortable Lessons

Regularly ask learners for feedback to ensure we are meeting their needs

Teachers need to remind themselves to collect feedback regularly to evaluate and challenge practice and meet learner needs. The information collected here has been invaluable. It is crucial that we ‘tap into source’ and remain mindful of learner views and experience. We are now questioning other aspects of the course and how collecting learner feedback could improve teaching and learning.

Respond to feedback in a clear, open and honest manner

The real catalyst for change was what we did with feedback. Ensuring that learners understand the purpose of freewriting, and reassuring them of how to go about it, was a step forward and a way to gain trust. Making explicit use of learner feedback in the classroom was a turning point as it acknowledged and valued their contributions to the process.

It is worth shifting the focus from curriculum to skills building

The teaching and learning year is usually based on a set curriculum. In July, as teachers we already know ‘what we should be working on’ on any given date. The curriculum has prescribed what we do in the classroom day to day. In this post Covid-19 year, we have been forced to pause, take stock, and listen to learners. (See also Appendix 6: Shifting the Focus from Curriculum to Skills Building Post Covid-19).

The most significant finding from learner feedback was that they wanted more time. Freewriting was another way to achieve the ultimate goal: creating literate, competent writers. There was a lot to gain by breaking away from the comfort of routine and, ultimately, nothing to lose.

Assessment is not the only way to measure progress and learning

According to a report that compares school standards in 22 countries, ‘English children are tested longer, harder and younger than anywhere else in the world’ (Woolcock 2008). Our research confirmed that over-assessment seems to do our learners more harm than good.

I [the project lead] observed some learners thrive in their freewriting, persuasive, and story writing only to perform poorly at formal assessment. I observed learners growing from the joy they were experiencing in their own writing and absolutely seizing up when presented with a timed assessment of the same type of task. Our research outcomes have led us to recommend that teachers find innovative ways to reduce assessment and approach their teaching with an attitude that the proof is in the process. The pudding will come.

Trust in teacher professionalism and establish time for a community of practice to meet regularly

This project has enabled us to be proactive about meeting our needs: sharing good practice and lessons learned, confidence building and feeling supported by a community. Action research is already a part of teaching and perhaps we should behave as such. (See also Appendix 7: Creating Space).

As teachers of writing, our job initially is to help learners find and value their voice

I learned that if our learners don’t recognise and value their own voices enough to write, progress is not possible. Much as we are teaching our learners to write, we are teaching them how to organise and trust their thoughts and feelings. English teachers need this to be recognised and we need the space to achieve this with confidence. This means less formal assessment and prescription around how to deliver competent readers and writers. The action research process forced me to create that space and do what I felt was right, given the circumstances. (See also Appendix 8: Teacher Reflections).

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

See also Appendix 4: Professional Standard 3 Inspiring, motivating and raising aspirations of learners.

  • 1. Reflect on what works best in your teaching and learning to meet the diverse needs of learners

    Our project has created an opportunity for teachers to examine our methods and how our learners respond to these. Whilst we are keen on learner reflection, we had forgotten the importance of teacher reflection. Teachers kept a journal to record what was and was not working in our classrooms. We brought the journal to our monthly meetings to collect lessons learned and ideas for next steps. Because of the nature of the challenge, it was very important that we met learner needs. After all, they could just not write, something we observed early on. It was vital that we examined what we were doing, asked learners what they needed and responded appropriately. Had we not engaged in this consistent reflection, we could not have moved forward and would not have achieved our current positive outcomes.

  • 2. Evaluate and challenge your practice, values and beliefs.

    We created a space where the team could reconnect with this professional standard. The project dictated that we experiment, get feedback and, more importantly, reflect on feedback to evaluate and revise our practice, values and beliefs. We had been following a rigid curriculum where learners were prescribed story prompts and tasked with writing and revising (usually) the same story throughout the unit. The project enabled the learners and teachers to try new prompts and new topics every session. We observed how learners were responding, thought about what we were doing and changed how we were delivering the prompts and what they were.

  • 13. Motivate and inspire learners to promote achievement and develop their skills to enable progression.

    In the interim stages of the project, my [the project lead’s] learners and I transformed our writing sessions into ‘workshops.’ We were ‘vibing’ – connecting, making references to pop culture, science fiction, social media, discussing possibilities for their writing and acknowledging what went well, what could be better, what outcomes they wanted when the story was over, etc. It seemed a love for stories and writing was infectious after all.
    Learners wanted to write better stories. They wanted to get the dialogue, spelling, punctuation, and grammar right. They are accepting responsibility and feeling accountable for their own stories.


Appendix 1: The Project Team

Appendix 2: Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3: Project Lead’s inspiration and reflection

Appendix 4: Professional standard 3: Inspiring, motivating and raising aspirations of learners

Appendix 5: Learning from this project (Uncomfortable Lessons)

Appendix 6: Shifting the focus from Curriculum to Skills Building Post-Covid

Appendix 7: Creating Space

Appendix 8: Teacher Reflections

Appendix 9: Learner Feedback Video


Asraf, M. (2018). ‘Using Focused Freewriting to Stimulate Ideas and Foster Critical Thinking During Prewriting’, TESOL International Journal, vol 13, no 4, Pages 67-81. Available at: (Accessed: 15 February 2022).

Elbow, P. (1973). ‘Writing Without Teachers’. 25th Edition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Woolcock, N. (2008). ‘English children are most tested in the world’, The Times (London), 8 February 2008, Page 31. Available at: (Accessed: 16 February 2022).

4b: North Lincolnshire ACL

How to create a ‘fast track’ L2 FS English curriculum model, with positive impact on attendance and achievement rates

North Lincolnshire Council Adult Education and Community Learning

This project allowed our service to evaluate and revise the way that we design and deliver our English Functional Skills, Level 2 curriculum. We are now able to successfully provide a condensed, intensive, and fast track English curriculum for individual learners who can complete the full Level 2 qualification in a total of 17 weeks.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Before starting this project, the Senior Lead Tutor had conducted research into how other adult education and community learning (AECL) providers deliver ‘Fast Track’ English courses. Historically, North Lincolnshire Council AECL has only provided a very traditional approach to delivering Functional Skills (FS) English at Level 1 and Level 2, in the form of a programme running from September to July, with learners completing all exams and assessments at the end of the academic year. Increasingly, tutors within the English department were finding that more academically able Level 2 learners were being ‘held back’ by this delivery model. Similarly, tutors were becoming increasingly concerned about allowing learners onto courses towards the end of the academic year when the course had been running since September.

A university centre opened in Scunthorpe in September 2018 and over the past 2-3 years there has been an increase in the aspirations of the local area, as adults can now progress without having to travel further afield, fitting in with work and family life. After IAG with the university, learners are being referred to AECL, as entry requirements include Level 2 FS English. This often occurs later in the academic year, so we recognised the need to revise the programme to enable learners to achieve their English qualifications by the University’s September intake.

In addition, the pandemic has prompted a lot of self-evaluation for people who have reflected on their personal and work lives, and now want to develop themselves. However, many jobs and qualifications have a minimum requirement of Level 2 FS English. As a result, some adults have been frustrated and do not want to wait a full year to gain a qualification, which is ‘just’ a steppingstone to their future goal. An example of this is from one of our September 2021 intake,

“I’ve been in aviation for 30 years but my passion is the ambulance service. I applied for the Yorkshire ambulance service, got through all testing but was denied the post due to education history and no English GCSE.”


Examples from learners who started the qualification in February 2022 and needed the English qualification before September include:

“I want to go back to college in September to do Level 3 in Engineering. I need this qualification before September.” (Jake)

“I need to achieve a higher English grade so that I can progress to University in September.” (Natalie)

“I already work as a social worker but need the Level 2 FS English qualification to secure my job in the sector. I need the qualification quickly as I am also going to University in September.” (Shandel)

The focus of this research project has been to investigate and evaluate whether NLCACL can successfully deliver a condensed version of the English Functional Skills curriculum, to allow specific learners to progress quickly onto their chosen next steps and meet their personal goals and aspirations.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research was part of the Education and Training Foundation’s OTLA 8 Programme, the action research taking place in the English department of our Adult Education section. We worked with two different cohorts of Level 2 learners to explore and evaluate the success of a 13-week, ‘Fast Track’ English Functional Skills curriculum. Because of the intensive nature of the programme and the time commitments expected of learners during the course, the first cohort of learners was selected by academic ability assessed through initial and diagnostic assessment.

On reflection, we identified that we needed to take a more holistic approach to the selection process and consider the learners’ motivation, time factors, commitments, IT skills and ability to learn independently. This was recognised when learners expected the tutor to be available at all hours. As part of our destination collection, one learner gave feedback

“You should have someone on hand throughout the week. As it is a fast track course it would be better to have someone available full time in case we have any questions.”


Networking with other AECL providers to research current methods of ‘Fast Track’ delivery:

  • Senior Lead Tutor set up networking meeting with seven other AECL providers, prior to undertaking project.
  • Research undertaken to investigate the varying ‘Fast Track’ models and to evaluate the most suitable.

Recruit learners for new course:

  • Create promotional material regarding new course type (see Appendix 2)

Ensure learners are appropriate candidates:

  • More robust initial and diagnostic assessment used
  • Step 1: ‘in house’ initial assessment to gauge rough level and assess personal commitment and motivations
  • Step 2: attend ‘Preparation for Online Learning’ workshop and complete more detailed and level specific ‘My Dynamic Learning’ initial assessment which generates percentage score.
  • Step 3: complete ‘My Dynamic Learning’ diagnostic assessment to identify existing knowledge and skills gaps (appendix 3)
  • Step 4: if learners score above 80% in initial assessment, then offer place on Fast Track course.
  • Step 5: Reflection and evaluation of the programme after the first cohort
  • Step 6: Revise the initial assessment process to include a more holistic approach

Decide on timings/ structure of course:

  • Previous networking revealed that the average length of a ‘Fast Track’ course was 13 weeks.
  • Decision to start with the reading unit first, as this knowledge needed to be secure before starting the next units. Six weeks were spent on this with a mock exam paper used as a summative assessment.
  • Speaking and listening was delivered second, for a total of two weeks including the assessment. This was because the tutor decided to run the assessments during the half-term break in October. Doing it this way allowed the learners to apply their reading skills orally before moving on to the writing unit.
  • Writing was delivered last, with a delivery time of 5 weeks. This was the final component of the course as the learners had to thoroughly understand and evaluate the varying reading techniques and skills, before beginning to apply them within their own writing.

Review and plan delivery of curriculum:

  • Originally, the speaking and listening component was due be delivered after the completion and achievement of the reading unit. However, this was brought forward into the middle of the reading unit, as learners felt confident completing this sooner.
  • Data collected from initial and diagnostic assessments was analysed to make informed decisions about how long to spend on each topic and which method of delivery was going to be used. This has now been evaluated and revised to include more holistic information. For the second cohort we have taken into consideration the learners’ overall commitment and motivation for completing the course in a short timeframe, as this will have an impact on their success.

Plan contingency for exam failures:

  • If learners failed exams, plans were put into place to provide a one-to-one tutorial-style delivery to provide personalised support in their areas for development.

Outcomes and Impact

As a result of the action research project for cohort 1:

  • 5 learners enrolled on the course
  • 100% of learners who took their exams passed (4 out of 5).
  • All learners passed the speaking and listening unit.
  • All learners passed the reading unit
  • 4 out of 5 passed the writing unit
  • 1 learner didn’t take the writing exam due to extenuating personal circumstances

Cohort 2 started in February 2022:

  • 7 learners enrolled on the course
  • All learners have passed the speaking and listening unit
  • All learners are making good progress and will take the reading exam on 26 May 2022 and have passed 2 practice papers
  • The writing exam is due to be completed by the end of June 2022

Although the intensity and length of the course cannot be directly linked to the success of the learners, they are now able to apply for their university courses and sustain employment and progress towards their goals and aspirations as a direct result of the Fast Track delivery model. For example, one of learners gave the following feedback:

“Completing the course has helped me gain the level of qualification that was required for the job that I want to do.”


Feedback from the tutor indicated that, due to learners’ personal and work commitments, the intensity of the course has meant that they retained knowledge and addressed misconceptions more effectively. Learners have given feedback, in their tutorials, that they would have struggled with this over a longer 36-week period.

This project has allowed our service to provide a more challenging, intensive and personalised programme to a specific group of learners which has never been done before, carefully considering and heavily weighting personal motivation and commitment to the course.

It has allowed both tutors and senior management to review the current delivery model to ensure that it is appropriate, challenging, and timely for learners to complete the relevant qualification. By completing this project, tutors have been able to review and evaluate the structure and sequencing of the Level 2 curriculum to ensure that no learner is held back in their progress towards achieving the qualification due to time constraints, e.g. waiting until the end of the academic year. Due to the success of the project, tutors are now discussing whether this delivery model can be replicated for level one English learners and also maths learners.

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

As a result of undertaking this project, teaching, learning and assessment has been heavily reviewed. Historically, a Functional Skills level 2 course at North Lincolnshire AECL has been delivered over an average of 36 weeks in the academic year. The tutor delivering this new ‘Fast Track’ course has had to meticulously reflect upon, review and evaluate the structure and sequencing of the curriculum and teaching activities to ensure that it can be effectively condensed in to 13 weeks, carefully planning and scheduling assessments and relevant exams. As part of this process, the course delivery model will be extended to 17 weeks in the Autumn Term 2022. This will allow for more tutorial time, in response to learners’ feedback, such as:

“One to one tutorials were very helpful and more of these would be useful in the future.”


Furthermore, the tutor has reflected that speaking and listening assessments needed more tutor-led input to strengthen these skills for learners to be more competent. Another key factor that has led to lengthening the fast-track model is because the first cohort were required to attend their assessments out of term time, which caused issues for some learners around childcare, and tutor workload.

Due to such an intensive programme, teaching, learning and assessment has become more rapidly responsive to learners’ gaps in knowledge and emerging needs (see Appendix 3.1). This was to ensure that misconceptions or misunderstandings can be swiftly dealt with and support mechanisms put into place effectively by the tutor in a very short time frame. The data collected at the initial and diagnostic assessment processes was key when prioritising certain learning outcomes and skills areas. It was appropriate for some learning outcomes to be omitted from face-to-face teaching activities and substituted with online learning using our chosen platform: learners had already shown strong skills within these areas, only needing a knowledge recap on their understanding. Using this platform allowed the tutor to provided differentiated resources according to learners’ abilities. After further reflection from the tutor, a new self-study area will be added to Google Classroom. This will provide learners with a wider range of learning resources for each topic that will lead to more opportunities for independent study, for example, You Tube links, websites, example banks, bite-size tutor instructional videos etc.

In addition to the above, tutors are currently working on creating a discussion board for each topic to promote learners to discuss their dilemmas with peers. The expected impact of this will be to enable learners to seek peer as well as tutor support. This will also help develop study skills to support their future progress and personal goals.

Similarly, the tutor had to carefully plan and appropriately schedule key assessments to ensure that learners’ understanding, knowledge and long-term retention was evident, throughout the three main components. The completion of such assessments allowed the tutor to tailor and adapt her teaching activities accordingly, to ensure learners were fully prepared and ready to complete their exams. It was crucial that the tutor knew her learners and their abilities well so that she could support and challenge each learner individually. Additional time was given to the tutor delivering this course to ensure that all learner work could be marked promptly and teaching activities adapted within a very small time frame, as at least double the amount of topics and learning outcomes were delivered each week compared to a ‘normal’ Functional Skills Level 2 course.

Organisational Development

Working practices were developed within the English subject area due to the large-scale review and evaluation of the curriculum that was undertaken. Regular meetings were crucial to review and evaluate the progression of learners and to problem-solve any arising issues promptly. As a result, the project lead had a close oversight of how the project and the learners were progressing. Learners were heavily involved in ongoing course evaluation as the tutor regularly collated learner voice to evaluate the delivery of the course. Learners knew that they were the first cohort of Fast Track learners and, therefore, an open and reflective culture was created by the tutor to encourage their reliable and valid feedback.

Learning from this project

Our main learning point has been that we, as a service, are able to provide a successful offer to a particular group of learners. Previously, a very traditional approach was taken towards delivering Functional Skills English. However, we now have confidence in our ability to provide a differentiated offer, more responsive to the needs of our learners.

After evaluating the availability of a second cohort for the project, it became evident that six out of seven learners could attend as one group on an evening. The seventh learner, who was of very high ability, has a young child and could only attend in the day. For this reason, we chose to create a more holistic approach. We are now delivering one fast-track class in an evening, and a tutorial-based session during the daytime for the other learner. This tutorial-based method of delivery will facilitate a flexible roll-on, roll-off programme.

(For further learning and reflection on adaptations in teaching and learning approaches, and marketing see Appendix 7)

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    Both learners and tutor have relied heavily on the online learning platform to support activities. An informed decision was made by the tutor to omit some topics from face-to-face teaching and substitute these with the online learning platform which has played a large role in progression and achievement. However, feedback from learners has led to further evaluation and therefore tutors are exploring other online options to support self-study.

  • 17. Enable learners to share responsibility for their own learning and assessment, setting goals that stretch and challenge.

    More emphasis has been placed on learner’s personal motivation, commitment, and responsibility for their own learning. A proactive culture has been created whereby learners have taken this responsibility very seriously to ensure that they are progressing well towards achievement.

  • 18. Apply appropriate and fair methods of assessment and provide constructive and timely feedback to support progression and achievement.

    Our project has allowed us to review and evaluate the most appropriate and fair methods of assessment for such an intensive course. The tutor has had to provide timely and highly effective feedback to support learner progression and achievement due to the shorter, more intense timescale of the course.


Supporting vocational trainers in prisons to embed EDS in their courses


This project investigated the barriers preventing vocational trainers from embedding digital skills in their course delivery. By creating a bespoke training package with vocationally contextualised resources, these barriers have been reduced and colleagues are better prepared and more confident to support their own learners with the development of digital skills and awareness.

You can download a PDF of this report on the Excellence Gateway (link pending).


Many of the vocational workshops and teaching spaces in prisons have limited access to technology resources and equipment due to their location within the prison establishment. For example, workshop spaces are not connected to the education computer network or Virtual Campus. As a result, trainers tend not to adopt digital approaches in their delivery.

This results in a number of barriers to learning: some tutors lack current, up-to-date knowledge of the digital world; some tutors lack confidence and experience in embedding digital learning; learners do not develop their digital skills while studying vocational courses. This is not an isolated issue and is something experienced by vocational trainers across the FE sector (Cattaneo, Antonietti and Rauseo, 2022; Prisoner’s Education Trust, 2021; Prisoner Learning Alliance, 2020).

However, embedding digital skills does not solely rely on the availability of digital technology (Sailer, Murböck and Fischer, 2021; Sailer, 2021). Therefore, this project aimed to better understand the wider barriers preventing vocational trainers from embedding digital skills into their delivery to inform the design of a bespoke training package and creation of resources to be used by vocational teams across the West Midlands region.

Other Contextual Information

Our action research activities were carried out with the vocational teams across the West Midlands prison group, with a specific focus on working with vocational trainers from HMP Hewell and HMPYOI Stoke Heath. We worked with three subject specialists, each from a different area of vocational study: catering and hospitality, construction and industrial cleaning. The training package and resources were disseminated across the whole of the West Midlands region, totalling eight different vocational teams.

Image of 'starter and enders' task cardThe resources we chose to create were inspired by the ETF’s ‘Digital Skills Starters and Enders’ cards (ETF, 2018). These are already used widely across the prison education estate and are a simple, quick way of embedding digital skills into lessons without the use of a computer.

We have adapted this format to focus specifically on vocational subject scenarios, for example, a chef creating a recipe database in a working kitchen or a builder creating a social media presence for their business.

A Padlet board was used to gather and collate evidence throughout the project, including examples of the resources created and tutor and learner feedback. More details of this can be viewed in Appendix 3. Please view this alongside the report for additional context.


Phase 1 – Recruiting Subject Specialists

Subject specialists in each area of vocational study were identified by the regional manager. All three specialists were briefed on the project aim during a face-to-face meeting with one of the project leaders.

Phase 2 – Pilot Study

Subject specialists were introduced to the pilot study activity: a Facebook Group Template (pictured here on the left). They were briefed in how the activity should be carried out; learners were invited to fill in the template using information they created for a fictional business linked to their subject area. Subject specialists carried this task out, collecting a number of good examples of how their learners utilised the template and kept a reflective log about the impact of the digital activity on their teaching (see Appendix 3 for further details).


'Facebook' template

Phase 3 – Identifying Current Strategies Embedding Digital

Project leaders had planned to sit down with specialists to go through schemes of learning to identifying pre-existing opportunities to embed digital skills. However, this was not necessary with the two specialists as they already had a bank of ideas for digital activities they could create.

template ideas

Phase 4 – Planning, Drafting and Creation of Bespoke Resources

Subject specialists were briefed on their task; produce three activity cards that embed digital skills without needing the use of technology.

The project leaders took the final three ideas from each specialist and entered them into the template for the final resource. An online shopping example from a Construction scenario can be seen here on the right. The full set of cards is on the Padlet

Example resource (buying hardware online)

Phase 5 – Dissemination of Resources (with training)

A set of the relevant activity cards was shared with subject specialists with guidance from project leaders on how they might be used.

A WhatsApp example is shown here. Tutors were encouraged to record their thoughts and learner feedback received when using the resources.

Phase 6 – Collection of Feedback and Conclusions

Feedback was collected from those tutors who trialled the resources via a Microsoft Forms feedback sheet, in-person conversations and written feedback sheets.

An example of one tutor’s reflections can be seen here on the right.

Outcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

The sharing and modelling of the use of the ETF’s generic digital skills ‘Starter and Ender Cards’ prompted and inspired the tutors in the project team to work with vocational specialists to produce creative, contextualised designs for digital skills development activities for prison learners without access to a computer. This process began with design of catering and hospitality themed cards and is now developing further with construction and cleaning-based resources.

Image of a storyboardThe resources produced empowered learners to develop digital, writing and communication skills as they drafted business Facebook pages like the one shown here, recipe website content and online review site content.

These activities gave learners an authentic experience of digital platforms and services such as Facebook, Trip Advisor, recipe repository websites and online purchasing systems for specialist equipment.

The vocational specialists also had an opportunity to trial their new resources with learners and to begin to refine them based on initial learner feedback.

This aspect of the research activity opened up an opportunity for the production of learner-led, co-designed digital skills development strategies and resources, which can be incorporated into future schemes of work as learners suggest the platforms and digital tasks they would like to explore next.

Following on from one pilot study activity (the creation of a Facebook Group Template), the catering specialist decided that having a blank template for learners to fill in was a very effective tool for the Food Safety course they were delivering. They created a blank ‘booklet’ for food safety guidance which is now an in-cell stretch and challenge activity that is available for each cohort of learners (see Padlet).

Organisational Development

Work on this project has led to improved communication and an increase in collaborative working between the tutor project managers and the vocational specialists who are working directly with learners. Co-working and co-creation with OTLA projects 2a and 2b saw increased creative collaboration between Novus digital champions on digital learning design.

Vocational specialists have expressed an interest in having more communication between vocational teams from different establishments and access to a place to share resources, ideas and questions. Our initial thoughts are that a MS Teams group could be set up and all vocational teams from the West Midlands added to it; project leaders are currently discussing this option.

The project management team have widened their professional network and profile by disseminating research outcomes to peers and now have the opportunity to set up digital skills learning networks by showcasing their successes and encouraging vocational tutors in other specialist areas to create digital learning resources.

Learning from this project

Drawing of an imaginary chef (with all the wrong PPE - wearing flip-flops, with a nose piercing etc.)

Image of an imaginary chef (with all the wrong PPE!)

This project has confirmed that specialist vocational tutors wish to integrate contextualised digital skills development into their sessions but felt that the lack of access to digital devices and networks in classes made this impossible.

What tutors needed was some inspiration in the shape of the sharing and modelling of use of ‘for instance’ resources which suggested the types of templates that they might use and the kinds of platform and task they could focus on.

Once engaging resources, such as realistic templates for online tasks using authentic colours and layouts, were modelled by the project team, tutors ‘ran with them’ to design engaging paper-based activities. The leveraging of existing popular strategies such as integration of the case study avatar ‘Chef Steve’ (here shown in a hazard spotting activity) from previous vocational learning activities added familiarity for the learners and encouraged even more engagement.

If digital and English skills development resources are created in one vocational specialism, these can be used as powerful models for other specialist areas, all that is needed are some ‘why not try this?’ examples to encourage and empower vocational tutors.

Professional Development

Using the ETF’s Professional Standards for teachers and trainers. Please note, this report refers to the 2014-2022 standards.

  • 4. Be creative and innovative in selecting and adapting strategies to help learners to learn.

    Due to the lack of technology in vocational spaces, trainers have no choice but to be creative and innovative when designing was to embed digital into their delivery. Collaborating with each other, and digital champions, empowers trainers to share and develop ideas that ‘think outside the box’. Traditional methods for embedding digital are not possible in these spaces, so trainers have instead implemented strategies likes interactive display boards, interactive phone templates and simulated website pages.

  • 6. Build positive and collaborative relationships with colleagues and learners.

    Working with multiple subject specialists meant a really positive team-working mentality was built in right from the start of the project. Specialists worked closely with project leaders throughout, sharing ideas and feedback at each step of the project. Positive relationships were also developed between the tutor and learners, as they supported the project by trying out different activities and providing feedback.

  • 15. Promote the benefits of technology and support learners in its use.

    This project aimed to support vocational trainers in identifying simple, yet effective, ways to embed digital without the need of technology, as this is often the main barrier to embedding digital skills in teaching and learning activities. By supporting colleagues to update their own knowledge of how to use digital skills, they were able to see the benefits of sharing this with their learners. As this project focused on digital skills outside of using physical technology, trainers were encouraged to explore contemporary digital content, including social media, showing they are up to date with what is being taught in other FE settings.


This project was carried out (and report written) by Ashleigh Whitwell (Project Lead) and Ellie Whitehall (Project Deputy).

With thanks to their mentor Lynne Taylerson and Research Group Lead Bob Read, for their support.


Appendix 2 – Learner Case Studies

Appendix 3 – Project Padlet


Cattaneto, A.P.P., Antonietti, C. and Rauseo, M. (2022) How digitalised are vocational teachers? Assessing digital competence in vocational education and looking at its underlaying factors, Computers & Education, 176, pp. 1-18.

ETF (2018) ‘Digital Skills Starters and Enders’ cards. [online]

Prisoners’ Education Trust (2021)

Prisoner Learning Alliance (2020)

Sailer, Murböck and Fischer (2021) Digital learning in schools: What does it take beyond digital technology? Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 103, 2021 ( )

Sailer et al (2021) Technology-related teaching skills and attitudes: Validation of a scenario-based self-assessment instrument for teachers. Computers in Human Behavior, Volume 115, 2021. (