girl writing

The research will result in the most extensive archive of authentic written work in schools to date

Biggest ever archive of children’s writing created to help experts assess language skills

Experts will collect the most extensive archive to date of children’s school work as part of a major project seeking to track how the way they use language changes as they get older.

Researchers will analyse pupil’s writing to assess how it evolves as they move through the school system. The database will lead to better understanding of how children use grammar, help support teachers and help improve the way the school curriculum is designed.

The three-year project, Growth in Grammar, involves academics at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter collecting and analysing thousands of pieces of contemporary writing, produced by students all abilities from across the country as part of their normal school work. The work will be digitized and will eventually made available as an online resource for other researchers and trainee teachers. The research team will also be updating exam boards on their work as they complete the project.

Samples of writing from English, history and science lessons by pupils aged five to 16, whose teachers and families have given permission, will be used. The writing is either sent to the research team by teachers or collected by members of the project team. All work is fully anonymised to protect the confidentiality of both the students and the school itself.

Philip Durrant, Senior Lecturer in Language Education, who is leading the study, said: “The research will result in the most extensive archive of authentic written work in schools to date. This archive will be made available as an interactive classroom resource, enabling teachers to access authentic pieces of writing that exemplify developmentally significant patterns of language.

“We want to look at how children progress as they get older, how their creativity and skills develop. We are interested in seeing when they begin to use certain linguistic features, and how their language and grammar starts to become more sophisticated. We see this as an important way of giving teachers and students both greater awareness and greater control over the linguistic features that are critical for ensuring that all students get to be the best writers they can be.”

"For our project to be truly successful, of course, it's vital that we collate writing from as many different schools as possible, so that we can get an accurate sample of the writing that is currently being produced all across the country. So we're always keen to hear from schools who would be interesting in contributing pieces of their students' written work. We really couldn't do what we're doing without the fantastic engagement and commitment of the teachers and students who have already contributed to our archive."

All participating schools will receive a personalised summary of the research findings, tailored to their needs. Academics will also produce a resource bank of teaching activities to help schools translate these findings into classroom practice. Teachers will be invited to participate in a free workshop on grammar teaching, run by experts at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Exeter.

To participate in the ESRC-funded project, contact the Research Fellow, Dr Mark Brenchley, at

Date: 4 March 2017

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