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Testing and Results



Two of the crucial linguistic features of academic language – abstract words and discourse structures – have been taught in one form or another over a period of twenty-five years. The author and her colleagues insisted on rigorous testing throughout the various trials.


GCSE results at Shevington High School, Wigan, 1983-1993


The most long-term and systematic trial was conducted at Shevington High School, Wigan, over an eight-year period (1983-91). At every stage the students were tested, using control and experimental groups. When these preliminary results made it clear that the experimental group was consistently outperforming the control group, from 1987 onwards all the pupils in years 7-9 studied the three books of Illuminating English. These were:


  • Book 1: Language Awareness: grammar, Latin and Greek roots, varieties of language
  • (Note: Book 1 is a good linguistic foundation, but one would not expect it to improve academic performance by itself.)
  • Book 2: Reading for Learning: abstract language (nominalisation, metaphor), Latin and Greek roots, passive voice, complex sentences
  • Book 3: Writing for Learning: discourse structures (problem / solution, general / particular, compare / contrast)

(Books 2 and 3 were taught in the expectation that this short-cut into academic ideas and structures would produce an improvement in academic performance.)


Internal reading and writing tests were conducted throughout the course but the results, though always positive, were insignificant compared to the dramatic improvement in GCSE results of those pupils who had studied the course compared with those in previous years who had not done the course. Until 1988 the GCSE results at Shevington were close to the national average of 30% of pupils gaining 5 or more GCSE’s at gradesA-C. (National29.9 %, Shevington 28.0 %) In 1989 the Year 11 pupils had studied only Book 1 of Illuminating English – one would not expect that introductory course to produce an improvement in results - and the GCSE results remained at the national average.

In 1990 the national average crept up to 34.5%, but the results at Shevington, where the pupils had studied Book 2 of Illuminating English,  leapt up to 46.6%. In 1991, the national average rose to 35.9%, while the results at Shevington rose to almost double that at 55.6%.

A change in management in 1991 led to the course being abandoned in the school. However, pupils taking their G.C.S.E. examinations in 1992 had already worked their way through all three books in years 7 to 9. Those taking G.C.S.E. in 1993 had already done Books 1 and 2, while those taking G.C.S.E. in 1993 had only studied Book 1.

 The graph below shows the results.


graph of results



Percentage GCSE increase 1989 -1991

  National  9.45  
  Wigan 16.80  
  Shevington 50.40  


All these results were published in: MASON, MARY, MASON, BOB and QUAYLE, TONY (1992) Illuminating English: how explicit language teaching improved public examination results in a comprehensive school, Educational Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1992


Test results at Bordesley Green Girls’ School, Birmingham, 1996-97


The pupils at this comprehensive school were mostly speakers of English as an Additional Language (98%).

Beginning in 1993, a trial of the books with a voluntary after-school class had produced encouraging results, but the fact that the experimental group was voluntary while the control group had not taken up the opportunity meant the extra variable of motivation could not be discounted..


However, the results were sufficiently encouraging for the cohort doing their GCSE’s in 1997 to work through the three books of Illuminating English in years 8-10. The success of the programme can be seen by comparing the experimental group (1997) with the control group (1996).


  1996   1997  
  Population 120   112  
  Entries 912   902  
  % pupils gaining 5 A-C's 17   36  
  % passes A-C (% of total entry) 36   43  
  % passes A-D (% of total entry) 43   66  
  % E and below 30   15  


  Smallest increase (by subject) 1996-1997 24  
  Largest increase (by subject) 1996-1997 59  


An account of the project at Bordesley Green Girls’ School was published in MARY MASON (1996): Language for Learning at Bordesley Green Girls’ School, Multi-Cultural Education Review, Issue No. 17, Winter Term 1995/96


Test results at University of Central England 2000-2010


Fasttrack course for post 16 students


As a result of a national conference on the project in 1994 (CHECK) a number of schools and Colleges of Further Education took up the course in a variety of ways. Since time was even more pressing in Further Education and the students were older, the author, together with Linda Anderson and other tutors at Solihull College of Further Education, produced a Fasttrack version of the course, reducing it to 30 hours. By this time the course had been improved and rewritten as Breakthrough to Learning.


Widening Participation Programme


In 2000 Professor Bob Farmer, Head of the Staff Student Development Department of the University of Central England, led a team which sent tutors into Sixth Forms and Colleges of Education in Birmingham once a week to administer the Fasttrack of Breakthrough to Learning. This was part of the University’s Widening Participation programme.


Test results


The University insisted on testing all the participating students by giving them a reading and writing test before and after the programme. The results were always positive. An example is given below:


Total Number of Students in Each Group and Total Group Scores


Reading test


No of 



Cloze Score


Cloze Score

Group A 20 316 356 19
Group B 10 263 304 14



Writing test


No of



Essay Score

Post Test

Essay Score

Group A 20 51 53.5 2.5
Group B 10 48 56 8


Comparative Overall % Results for Pre and Post Cloze tests
Pre-Test Cloze Post-Test Cloze Overall Improvement
41% 49% 8%
Comparative Overall % Results for Pre and Post-Essay Test
Pre-Test Essay Post-Test Essay Overall Improvement
56% 69% 13%



The University had no control over the teaching groups presented by the schools and colleges. Therefore it was found impossible to organise matching control and experimental groups. Also the tutors were not in a position to obtain public examination results of the participants. Hence, although the results of the tests were always positive, one could not discount the effect of maturation.




The University asked students and class teachers to fill in questionnaires at the end of the programme. The following are some of the comments:


“It (the course) makes you THINK differently.”

Student on Pre-Nursing Course, Matthew Boulton College


“I can structure my essays much more easily so this helps me to get all the information down and not leave things out.”

Sixth Form Centre student


“I seem to have learned an awful lot that I thought I already knew. It was quite hard at first but it got easier the further I got.”

Access student: college of further education


“I am feeling much moe confident and my last 2 essays have been B grades whereas before I had consistent C’s and D’s.”

Student in Further Education


“The students felt a great sense of achievement in working through the course and receiving a certificate from UCE. As there was no element of failure, and each individual could work at their own pace, they experience very little tension and their confidence grew.”

Teacher in college of further education