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Impact case study

Enhancing Social Inclusion Through Literacy and Technology

Unit(s) of assessment: Education

School: School of Social Sciences


This research focuses on applying new technologies in the classroom to improve children's literacy levels. One project, led by Dr Helen Boulton, looked at raising literacy levels in English language in secondary schools and a second project, led by Dr Neil Hughes, worked with primary schools to improve literacy in modern foreign languages. Both projects trained teachers in using a range of technologies and associated pedagogy to support learning and teaching in the classroom. The impact of the projects was in the professional development of teachers and trainee teachers, and the progression of pupils in primary and secondary education.

Raising literacy in English

Five secondary schools with an above average proportion of students who have English as a second language or are eligible for free school meals took part in the project. Teachers from core subject areas were paired with trainee teachers who had good Information Technology skills and were introduced to a range of new technologies to use in the classroom. The teachers used their new skills with Key Stage 3 pupils (aged between 11 and 14) to raise literacy levels and engage disaffected students.

This project addresses two significant areas of government concern about education:

  • Students with special educational needs who are identified as underachieving in schools.
  • Newly qualified teachers reporting that they are unprepared to meet the diverse needs of students with special educational needs in their classrooms.

As a result of the project the teachers reported:

  • increased levels of literacy for most students
  • significant engagement by students with English as a second language
  • increased confidence in learning by all students
  • increased levels of engagement by all students who had been identified as disengaged learners by their school.

One school also identified significant benefits for a physically disabled student. Students reported that the technologies made learning fun and enjoyable.

Raising literacy in modern foreign languages

Seventy teachers and teaching assistants took part in training programmes using technology to increase language learning opportunities for primary students in socially deprived areas. Sixty per cent now use the resources and methods acquired during the training in their teaching. The impact is on teachers' increased knowledge, understanding and skill in meeting the language needs of primary school students. Two of the schools involved in the project, Seagrave Primary School and Cantrell Primary and Nursery School, are located in deprived areas and have significantly above-average numbers of students entitled to free meals and / or with learning difficulties.

This project was the catalyst for the development of a new primary language up-skilling strategy introduced in Nottingham in 2009-2010.

Through its research on modern foreign language learning, NTU has developed a partnership with Cool Creative Concepts to produce an online Spanish language course for primary schools.

Research background

This research has investigated the role of technology to support the development of English and foreign language literacies across primary and secondary schools, both nationally and internationally.

The work in English language literacies, led by Dr Boulton, is underpinned by research into the use of emerging technologies. The former Training and Development Agency (TDA) funded an NTU project which demonstrated how new technologies could be used in core secondary subjects to improve literacies and engage disaffected students in five schools across the East Midlands. The origin of this project lies in work with trainee teachers to develop the use of a range of technologies such as wikis, blogs and ePortfolios, and then identifying if or how these are cascaded into their practice as newly qualified teachers, and whether they engaged students. This earlier work laid the foundations for the TDA-funded research by raising key concerns about teachers' lack of confidence in using new technologies and about the barriers faced by newly-qualified teachers in using new technologies.

The initiatives and projects in modern foreign languages are informed by Dr Hughes' research into blended language learning. He has also looked at the feasibility of developing practical language learning initiatives on a public-private basis. This led to the Learn and Teach Spanish initiative, jointly funded by Nottingham Trent University and a private sector partner, the Cool Creative Concepts. The context, evolution and impact of the partnership are discussed in 'The ups and downs of third-stream collaboration in modern languages'. Funding was also made available by the Routes into Languages national project to develop the Ambassadors learn languages resource. This multimedia learning resource includes beginners' units in Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Latin, Polish and Spanish. Each unit contains a rich mix of reading, writing, listening, speaking and singing activities based on audio recordings, visual input and interactive games.

Subsequently, internal funding has supported English language-learning work in collaboration with Nottingham-based charity, Education For The Children, which runs primary and secondary schools for street children in Guatemala.

The research demonstrates the importance of offering a range of online and face-to-face learning designed on a blended learning basis. Of particular note is the way the blend of elements motivates students to engage outside the classroom with activities considered effective in promoting foreign language literacies, such as: exposure to second language input; social interaction with peers and native-speakers; and the production of meaning-focused written and oral communication. The results demonstrate that an approach which integrates an emphasis on technology is an effective, efficient and popular method for developing literacy skills that has implications in a range of different learning contexts.



  • Hughes, N., 2009. Blended learning: an effective, efficient and popular approach to language learning in HE. In: Fourth International Blended Learning Conference, University of Hertfordshire, 2009. 53-63.
    Hughes has also been invited to speak at international, national and local conferences, and invited to visit the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia (2009 and 2010).
  • Boulton, H., 2012. Can technologies raise literacy levels? In: Association of Information Technology in Teacher Education Annual International Conference, Oxford University, Oxford, 5-7 July 2012.

Online resources

The following resources, created as a result of these projects, are available online, extending the research outputs to an international audience.



Conference proceedings