Shaping policy on the teaching of grammar and writing

A decade of research at the University of Exeter into the development of writing in school-aged children has shaped classroom practice in the teaching of writing and informed national and international policy. This has resulted in measurable improvements to children’s writing abilities and has changed ways of thinking about writing.

The research has been celebrated by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) who have awarded the Centre for Research in Writing with this year’s ESRC Celebrating Impact Prize for outstanding impact in society.


The Centre’s research led by Professor Debra Myhill, Dr Susan Jones, Dr Helen Lines and Dr Annabel Watson clearly shows the positive impact on children’s written work of embedding grammar in the teaching of writing.

In one ESRC-funded study, researchers found that when grammar was linked meaningfully to the writing being taught, children’s writing scores improved at double the rate of children not taught in that way. This was measured (by Cambridge Assessment) in line with National Curriculum KS3 standards.

Professor Myhill explained: “The key 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, the Centre’s researchers have helped to demystify the process of writing and to develop teachers’ ability to show children how writing works.


The involvement of Pearson Education, publishers of curriculum materials, is also ensuring that the research achieves significantly greater impact than would otherwise have been possible. Pearson Education recently invested significant sums in developing new writing materials aimed at children and teachers.

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

Dr Nigel Skinner, Head of the Graduate School of Education, said: “The benefit to teachers and children of this research and the advances in policy, theory and practice illustrate the important impact that high quality educational research can have on learners. Through generating new insights into writing and the teaching of writing this work makes a real difference to the achievement of learners, as well as advancing theoretical understanding.”

In addition to ESRC funding the Centre receives support from organisations such as the Arts Council, the Youth Sport Trust and the Education Endowment Fund.

(Image of child writing courtesy of Shutterstock)