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].

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

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

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.


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)