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Breaking Boundaries: Changing educators approach to teaching grammar

23 November 2020

3 minutes to read

Breaking Boundaries: Changing educators approach to teaching grammar

The University of Exeter has helped to change the way that educators approach teaching grammar and writing to children.

Writing is a foundation for academic success, employability and social engagement, but many school children still struggle to meet national standards in writing. Also, since 2014, grammar teaching has been given particularly high status in the National Curriculum, including a controversial grammar test at age 11, despite substantial evidence over 50 years that grammar teaching has no impact on writing ability.

Professor Debra Myhill and the University of Exeter team have shown that making meaningful links between grammar choices and their rhetorical effects in writing can have significant positive effects on children’s writing. It has also shown that teaching practices need to link reading and writing though the use of authentic texts as models, showing how writers make grammatical choices.

The team’s research has contributed to continuing professional development in the teaching of writing. They have created a Teachers’ Resources section on their website, with free guidance and resources for teachers which received more than 26,000 views in 2019, accounting for 47% of all views on the Graduate School of Educations research websites.

Since 2014, the research group have also led over 160 training workshops for teachers and teacher educators in England, reaching approximately 10,000 participants in total, and changing profession understanding of the role of grammar. One series of workshops, attended by approximately 70 teachers, evaluation forms indicated that 96% of the teachers had changed their practice in linking grammar to meaning-making in writing as a consequence of attending the course.

This training has also reached an international audience.

In Australia, Professor Myhill has given several keynote speeches for teachers and the team are closely linked to the Australian Systemic Functional Linguistic groups in Sydney, Wollongong and Melbourne. In Scandinavia, a number of keynote presentations or workshops have been given representing cumulative impact with the early presentations triggering the later sessions and deeper impact.

Specialist workshops have also been run for educators in France, Germany and Singapore.

The impact from the research and workshops presented by the University of Exeter now increasingly extends beyond direct involvement, leading to teachers and advisers using our research to inform their own training of schools, leading to improved outcomes in writing. Using the University of Exeter materials, many schools and local authorities across the country have seen students’ attainment in writing improve.

Finally, the team’s findings have influenced commercial educational publications and professional development training for teachers. They have worked directly with non-academic partners to develop educational resources and training materials which draw on the research.

In 2013, as consultant developers, they helped Pearson publish the ‘Skills for Writing’ series and in 2014, again working with Pearson, they helped develop support materials for the GCSE specifications which were available free on their .

The Exeter team have made a major contribution to how the teaching of grammar is understood, not only in England but internationally.  Their work gives teachers confidence in enabling students to understand how to make grammatical choices which help them shape and craft their writing effectively.


Breaking boundaries provides a bitesize look into the variety of leading research that has, and still is changing the world from the University of Exeter.

For more information please contact:

Professor Debra Myhill hosted a webinar for the UK Literacy Association on grammar in April 2020


Economic and Social Research Council

Education Endowment Foundation



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