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:

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.

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.


English and digital tools in the prison classroom


This project explored how to improve the embedding of digital tools within English sessions across Novus’ provision. The project set out to research, design, and deliver a bespoke training offer for teachers of English across prisons in the West Midlands.

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


The Centre for Social Justice (2021:4) released a report which cited prisoners as being frequently amongst the most ‘digitally excluded’ members of society. Furthermore, the Coates Review (2016) made recommendations regarding a need for increased incorporation of digital skills within the prison curriculum. This project was informed by previous and existing CPD training offers made available by Novus relating to enhancing the learning experience through effective use of digital tools that have been developed since the publication of this report.

Image showing Novus' whitelisted websitesWhen commenting on the Coates Review, Crabbe (2016:6) highlighted that a key theme related to prison staff being ‘risk-averse’ when it came to using information technology. Additionally, it was discovered that the Virtual Campus (VC), whilst widely available across the majority of prison establishments, was felt to be too difficult to access. It was the aim of this project to further demystify the process of accessing the VC to enable colleagues to make greater use of digital tools accessible via the VC (see left), enhancing the classroom experience for learners.

A lower-than-expected utilisation of digital tools being used to enhance learning, teaching and assessment within English teaching, particularly across the West Midlands was identified by Novus digital leads which led to the project being situated within this region.

This project therefore aimed to investigate the reasons behind the resistance to the use of digital tools within learning and further raise awareness of the digital tools available to colleagues to support their delivery. This was intended to be achieved through the creation of a tailored set of training delivered across the West Midlands region.

Other Contextual Information

The setting for our project was all prisons situated in the West Midlands region (Lot 15) with a focus on English. The region comprises of: HMP Birmingham, HMPYOI Brinsford, HMP Featherstone, HMP Hewell, HMP Oakwood, HMP Stafford, HMPYOI Stoke Heath and HMPYOI Swinfen Hall. As part of the project, we were able to connect with colleagues to deliver training and provide support to them with their embedding of digital tools into their delivery.

Leaders for the project were both based at prison establishments within this region and have a combined 11 years’ experience teaching within this context. Project leaders worked as joint Virtual Campus Digital Champions within the West Midlands and were committed to supporting colleagues to utilise digital skills to enhance the overall learning experience.


Note that examples of digital assets and comments from participants in the project phases below can be found on the project Padlet (shown below, also see Appendix 3).

Questionnaire (extract)

Phase 1

A MS Form-based questionnaire was shared with all colleagues involved in the delivery of Functional Skills English across all prisons within the West Midlands region. A total of 9 responses were received from six of the eight prisons across the Lot.

The purpose of this MS Form was to establish a starting point in terms of embedding digital into their delivery across the region.

Replies assisted project leads in assessing where tutors felt they were able to embed digital well already. They also enabled project leads to react to responses relating to specified barriers which could be addressed within the training offer as well as gather previously unconsidered ideas surrounding which digital tools to incorporate into the training package.

City and Guilds SmartScreen image

Phase 2

A pilot was conducted using the two prison establishments at which project leads are based. The pilot training programme made use of BKSB Live 2 and City & Guilds SmartScreen (see left) to introduce the digital tools that could be employed within the prison classroom.

Phase 3

A review of the pilot training offer provided was conducted using quotes from focus groups and one-to-one discussions which took place immediately following delivery of pilot training package.

Consultation also occurred with a member of the Teacher Education Development (TED) Team within Novus. Novus’s TED team were formed during 2020 and have developed a wide range of CPD for colleagues across Novus delivered in a variety of ways. Project leads discussed the most effective methods when delivering training or disseminating information to colleagues that can be used to enhance delivery such as participant packs like the one shown above.

Image showing 'how to use GoConqr training'

Phase 4

The project was expanded to include the Learning on Screen and Go Conqr tools to the training offer and delivery was extended to an additional three sites within the region: HMP Featherstone, HMP Birmingham and HMP Swinfen Hall.

Image showing materials created by the project team

Phase 5

Direct participants created further digital learning resources and shared these within the region via VC  – Virtual Campus 2, example shown here. Further feedback was collected from these training sessions delivered to colleagues.

Image showing a slide from dissemination event

Phase 6: Dissemination of findings.

Two separate sessions entitled Enhancing the Learning Experience: Utilising Digital Skills in the English Classroom were prepared and delivered at the 2022 Novus day of the LTE Group’s Teaching and Learning Conference. This involved colleagues, not just from the West Midlands but across all Novus sites including Novus Cambria.

Tutor feedbackOutcomes and Impact

Teaching, Learning and Assessment

Use of the initial survey acted as a really effective scoping activity to determine where pockets of enthusiastic digital learning existing practice lay and what the barriers were to wider learning technology use in Functional Skills English delivery. Analysis of the feedback surveys allowed a bespoke CPD offer to be planned and facilitated across the West Midlands region initially using BKSB Live 2 and City and Guilds SmartScreen. Feedback added to the evidence on what further support tutors want and where their interests lie.

The CPD provided allowed the project team to effectively model a range of different learning technology tools and contextualised English learning resources including Learning on Screen and Go Conqr. The tutors attending found the training beneficial.

Tutors were able to familiarise themselves with learning resources available on the Virtual Campus that they were previously unaware of and use these in their practice.

Tutors noted that extending use of learning technology, for example the use of short video clips as discussion stimuli and accessing screen archives, has widened their resource repertoire and resulted in learners being far more engaged than they were in the past.

Organisational Development

This project supported the development of colleagues’ working practices by further empowering them to incorporate the digital tools available into their delivery. Participating in the projects enabled the project leads to establish a starting point for the confidence levels of colleagues and work towards increasing these as the project progressed.

The training provided empowered tutors to familiarise themselves with the learning resources available on the Virtual Campus such as the screen archive Box of Broadcasts (BoB) and empowered them to extend their practice by making educational video clips which have resulted in prison learners being far more involved in group discussions.

As a consequence of the project, there are five digital tools that have been identified as proposed routeways into further embedding digital into English delivery consistently following the development of a bespoke training offer: City and Guilds SmartScreen, BKSB (in particular their Skills Check activities), Hemingway App, GoConqr and Learning on Screen.

The project team were also able to extend their professional network and raise their profile by presenting and disseminating the findings and outcomes of this research. A video showcased at the Teaching and Learning Conference demonstrated how the range of digital tools leveraged by the project could be embedded within English delivery. This resource is now available to all colleagues via the Novus Personal Growth and Development webpage.

Learning from this project

Work on this project has revealed that there is definitely enthusiasm for the extended use of learning technology by English tutors in a prison environment. Numerous challenges and barriers to leveraging technology exist, including ready access to platforms and devices, familiarity with how to obtain platform user accounts and provision of CPD to extend digital skills and pedagogy. An initial scoping activity was valuable to determine where existing good practice sits and where there is enthusiasm for further learning technology development.

Once a clear picture of the existing landscape has been established, learning technology showcases modelling the use of contextualised examples, in the case of this project in English learning, give tutors the exposure, ideas and impetus they need to become more effective and enthusiastic users of digital tools. Once prison tutors experience how popular use of resources, such as videos for discussion prompts, are with their learners this gives them encouragement to experiment further with learning technology and digital pedagogy.

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.

    This project took the approach of teachers as learners. Participants needed to embrace digital as a way of offering innovation to them as teachers. It was the intention of the project that these would then be passed on in creative ways to their learners, supporting them in their access to and development of different concepts.

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

    This project enabled us to not only strengthen the collaborative relationship between project leads as Digital Champions for the region, but also build collaborative partnerships with colleagues at establishments beyond those at which project leads are based. This collaborative working between colleagues has resulted in the sharing of a diverse range of speaking, listening and communication resources to be used with learners across the region which make effective use of the digital tools available.

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

    Our project shared with colleagues who, perhaps previously, held sceptical views relating to the use of digital tools in their delivery and shared more widely across the West Midlands region how these same tools could be used effectively to enhance their delivery of Functional Skills English qualifications.


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


Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) (2021) Digital Technology in Prisons: Unlocking relationships, learning and skills in UK prisons. London: CSJ.

Crabbe, M.J.C. (2016) Education for Offenders in Prison. Journal of Pedagogic Development Volume 6, Issue 3.

Prisoners’ Education Trust (2021)

TES (2021)

Prisoner Learning Alliance (2020)