A decade of research into the development of writing in school-aged children led by Professor Debra Myhill has shaped national and international policy, improved children's writing abilities and changed classroom practice.

Impacts

  • Professor Myhill's research has shaped policy and curriculum development in England - including leading the advisory group of four writing the Grammar Annex of the Primary English curriculum; participation in the KS2 English Test team; and providing expert testimony in discussions of the English curriculum revision with the Minister of State for Schools (2012)
  • Professor Myhill has also provided evidence for the new Australian curriculum
  • The research has made significant impact on developing teachers' understanding and practice in the teaching of grammar and writing. The National Association for the Teaching of English has a web page dedicated to the research, and the team has led more than 60 professional development workshops involving 2,250 participants in the UK, with further take-up in Switzerland, Australia and South Africa
  • In 2014 Pearson UK adopted the research as the basis of large-scale investment in new Secondary English KS3 material, to be followed by GCSE material in 2015. Pearson has also commissioned two Continuing Professional Development contracts to develop teachers' confidence in the teaching of grammar, and 800 teachers are expected to participate in 2014.

"At Pearson UK we have been greatly influenced by Debra Myhill and her research into the impact of contextualised grammar teaching on progress in writing. This teaching approach has now been adopted by Pearson UK as one of the defining pedagogical methods for improving literacy standards in secondary schools." (Daniel Cuttell, Senior Manager English: Learning Services, Pearson UK)

About the research

Based on a ten-year programme of research, Professor Debra Myhill and colleagues at the University of Exeter can now clearly demonstrate that embedding grammar in the teaching of writing can have a positive impact on children's written work.

In one ESRC-funded study, researchers found that when grammar was linked meaningfully to the writing being taught, children's writing scores, measured to National Curriculum KS3 standards, improved at double the rate of children not taught in that way.

"The key," says Professor Myhill, "is using grammar to open children's eyes to the infinite repertoire of choices which are available to them as writers. Used in this way, grammar helps children understand how language works and how to express themselves with greater craft and creativity."

A further outcome of this research is that many teachers now think differently about the teaching of writing. Through a mix of evidence-based practical guidance for teachers, engagement with professional audiences and workshops with teaching professionals, Professor Myhill and colleagues have helped 'demystify' the process of writing and develop teachers' ability to show children how writing works.

The involvement of multinational company Pearson Education is also ensuring that the research achieves significantly greater reach and impact than would otherwise have been possible. Pearson recently invested significant sums in developing new writing material aimed at children and teachers. "Pearson has ensured that the principles of our research are embedded in these materials," says professor Myhill. "Informing teachers about the underlying research and pedagogy is playing a key role in the marketing campaign."