Dr Philip Durrant
Senior Lecturer in Language Education


Research interests

The central aim of my research is to develop new understandings that can inform the teaching and assessment of writing. My current work has two main strands. The first focuses on the language of student writing, both at school and university. I am particularly interested in how writing develops with age and expertise, how linguistic features influence the grades awarded to writing, and how written language differs across academic disciplines and genres. The second strand focuses on the learning and use of vocabulary and phraseology. In particular, I have interests in the role of phraseology in second/foreign language learning and in the vocabulary and phraseology of academic English.

My research has drawn mostly on corpus linguistic methods and has been especially concerned with how these methods can interact with those of neighbouring fields such as education, second language acquisition, language assessment and psycholinguistics.


Research projects

Growth in Grammar: A Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Student Writing between 5 and 16

(Principal Investigator. 2015-2018. Funded by ESRC: £317,843)

The project will focus on how school students’ use of grammar develops through the course of their academic careers, from age five to sixteen. We will establish a representative collection of authentic student writing from schools across the country and semi-automatically annotate these texts for grammatical features. This will be used to determine sets of features which are characteristic of writing at different stages of development and at different levels of attainment, how students at different stages and levels adapt their use of grammar to different communicative contexts, and how students’ use of grammar compares to that of mature writers. It is hoped that this will enable us to provide a more thorough understanding of grammatical development in writing and to inform national and international curriculum policies on the teaching of English. It will also generate an updatable corpus of grammatically-annotated, educationally authentic student writing which will be made accessible to both researchers and teachers.


Using PTE Academic to predict achievement and measure proficiency gains in an intensive EAP foundation programme

(Principal Investigator. 2014-2015. Funded by Pearson: £5,438)

Many institutions provide intensive programmes in English for Academic Purposes for applicants whose English language proficiency is deemed not to be sufficient for direct entry to English-medium higher education. It is essential that these institutions (and the higher education institutions which they serve) are able to make informed judgements about the extent to which particular applicants are likely to benefit from particular programmes and the length and type of programme they are likely to need to attend before commencing their degrees. 

In most cases, such judgements are made on the basis of widely-available academically-oriented proficiency tests, such as PTE-A. It is therefore important to determine: 1) whether and how such tests are able to predict applicants’ degree of achievement on an intensive EAP course; 2) the extent to which applicants can be expected to reach the levels of proficiency higher educational institutions require for entry to degree programmes by engaging in a particular EAP course; and 3) how and why the answers to 1) and 2) vary across applicants. This project aimed to answer these three questions.

It traced EAP students‘ score gains on PTE-A over the period of a 10-week programme, determined how well pre-course PTE-A scores predicted their performance on the EAP course (as measured by in-house assessments), and how learner and contextual factors influenced these things.

Research networks

Centre for Research in Writing

Language and Education Network

Centre for Research in Professional Learning

Research grants

  • 2015 Economic and Social Research Council
    Growth in Grammar: A multi-dimensional analysis of student writing between 5 and 16
  • 2014 Pearson Education
    Using the Pearson Test of English Academic (PTE-A) to predict achievement and measure proficiency gains in an intensive EAP foundation programme.

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