Evaluative research: innovation, impact and reach
Submitting InstitutionStranmillis University College
Unit of AssessmentEducation
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Education: Curriculum and Pedagogy, Specialist Studies In Education
Summary of the impact
Research conducted by Stranmillis University College (SUC) has
significantly contributed to the effective teaching of literacy skills to
children aged 4-6 in the first two years of primary school in Northern
Ireland (NI) . Informed by the evaluation, the Linguistic
Phonics Approach (LPA) is currently employed by 461 schools in NI
affecting some 25,000 children per year. The research provided a
cost-benefit analysis, created innovative assessment instruments to assess
children's written skills and evidence of the positive impact of LPA on
children's literacy development . SUC is the only institution
in Ireland to deliver certified LPA training to 90 BEd and 15 PGCE
students per annum.
The underpinning research conducted by SUC contributed significantly to
the phonics versus whole language debate in the NI context [1,2].
Commissioned by the Belfast Education & Library Board (BELB) and
funded by the Belfast Regeneration Office (2004/2006), the report affirmed
the University College's position as an institution of excellence with the
conceptual and technical skills necessary to produce the highest quality
research to determine the effectiveness of new and existing programmes,
procedures and/or interventions aimed at improving academic standards. The
North Eastern Education and Library Board (NEELB) (2007) subsequently
commissioned SUC to evaluate the impact of the Jolly Phonics approach on
children's literacy development. In 2007/2008, the Council for the
Curriculum, Examinations & Assessment (CCEA) contracted the team to
undertake an extensive evaluation of the status of English in Irish Medium
Schools. The LPA project was extended in 2007/2008 to offer a
cross-sectional analysis of pupil performance. Dr Gray was employed at
Stranmillis University College over the full period under consideration in
this case study (2000-2014).
Professional Development for Early Childhood Professionals: Examining
Pedagogy in Early Childhood (2008-2010)
The Department of Education and Science commissioned SUC to evaluate
Early Years Pedagogy in the Republic of Ireland (RoI), to develop a model
to support early childhood educators/teachers to examine and enhance their
own pedagogy and to disseminate models of good practice across the sector.
An extensive audit of Early Years provision for preschool and junior
infant children (aged 0-6) in RoI was undertaken, supported by evidence
from interviews, focus groups with practitioners and stakeholders, and
case study video recordings of practice in 16 settings. The investigation
was co-managed with Dr Walsh and colleagues at SUC and single led by Dr
Colette Gray during a maternity leave [5,6]. Findings from the
study led to the development of pedagogical resources for Early Years
practitioners and teachers.
References to the research
5. McMillan, D., Walsh, G., Gray, C., Hanna, K. Carville, S. &
McCracken, O. (2012) `Changing mindsets: the benefits of implementing a
professional development model in early childhood settings in Ireland.' Professional
Development in Education, Vol. 38:3, pp. 395-410.
Plus final reports to local funders:
6. Walsh, G., Gray, C., McMillan, D., Hanna, K., McCracken, O. and
Carville, S. (2010) Professional Development for Early Childhood
Professionals: Examining Pedagogy in Early Childhood. Dublin: DES.
Funding For Evaluative Research projects
2004/2005 (£25,950) An Evaluation of the Linguistics/Phonics
Project. Funder Belfast Regeneration Office.
2007 (£10,000) A qualitative evaluation of a synthetic phonics
approach. Funder NEELB.
2007/2008 (£19,500) The impact of the Linguistic Phonics
Approach: A cross-sectional approach. Funder Belfast Education
& Library Board
2008/2009 (25,500) An evaluation of the status of English in
Irish Medium Schools. Funder CCEA
2008/2010 (€90,000). Professional Development for Early Childhood
Professionals: Examining Pedagogy in Early Childhood Dept of Education
& Skills, Republic of Ireland.
2012/2013 (£5000) An audit of preschool transition practices for
young children with special needs in Ireland. Funder SCoTENs.
2013/2015 (£18,750). An evaluation of handheld devices in raising
young children's literacy and numeracy skills. Funder BELB.
Details of the impact
Research from SUC is impacting the lives of children, parents and
teachers in Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland: Policy and Practice
Evaluations conducted by SUC feature prominently in discussions about
raising literacy standards in NI [2,3]. Every School a Good
School: A Strategy for Raising Literacy & Numeracy Standards
produced by the Department of Education (2008, p.14), notes that the SUC
evaluation highlights the added benefits this programme has for higher and
lower ability pupils. The evaluation informed and reshaped the delivery of
literacy skills in four education and library boards comprising 461
primary schools in NI. The SUC evaluation of the LPA retains prominence on
more than 50 primary school websites. In affirming the close
correspondence between this programme and the revised early years'
curriculum, the Jolly Phonics evaluation led the NEELB to implement the
programme in all 209 primary schools within the board area .
Research Consultant PRAXIS CARE 2006 to present
2005/-.As a result of her extensive experience with evaluative research,
Dr Gray was invited to act as a consultant in educational research to
PRAXIS CARE (PC). PC is the largest provider in Ireland of services for
adults and children with a learning disability and mental ill health. Dr
Gray works with a small team of researchers in PC to involve children with
learning difficulties in research that affects aspects of their lives.
Children have been taught techniques for peer interviewing and
observations and reported their findings to service providers. These
projects have produced educationally appropriate resource materials for
children with learning disabilities.
The Republic of Ireland
2010. Dr Gray was the invited consultant to quality assure the new Early
Childhood Education degree (2011) offered by The Froebel Department of
Primary Education at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. Her
comments were used to refine and reshape the degree programme. 2011/2014.
She was subsequently invited to act in the role of external examiner to
2009/2013. Visiting Professor (Child Development), by invitation, Dr Gray
was appointed to St Mark and St John University Plymouth (Marjon) in 2009.
Her appointment reflected the University's strategic imperative to
strengthen its publication profile and increase the corpus of staff
engaged in research.  Dr Gray gave bi-annual keynote addresses
to invited audiences including local stakeholders, disseminated her
research findings to students on the MEd special needs pathway, led
research workshops for staff, gave one to one mentoring sessions to early
career staff, reviewed research proposals and advised on articles for
publication. The success of her appointment can be measured in the
extension of her appointment from 3 to 5 years and the increase in staff
actively involved in scholarly activity.
2011/-. Dr Gray currently holds the prestigious position of Editor to The
International Journal of Early Years Education which publishes four
editions per year. Formally the Chair of Child Care in Practice,
her expertise in journal management has led to a significant increase in
the number of articles received from internationally renowned academics
and a noticeable increase from international scholars to edit specialist
journal editions. Approaches to join the editorial board are regularly
received from international academics keen to support the work of the
journal. 2013-.She was recently co-opted onto the board of the Centre for
Research in Early Education (Birmingham, 2013) and, with a group of
international scholars (Professors Bertram, Pascal, Formosinho), is
working to produce the first set of Ethical Guidelines and Code of Conduct
specifically for researchers, practitioners and scholars working in the
Early Years field. The team will launch the Code at the European Early
Childhood Research Association Conference (EECERA) in Cyprus, September
2014 and publish it in both the EECERA Journal (2014) and the International
Journal of Early Years Education (Vol. 21, Iss. 3, 2014).
Sources to corroborate the impact
1. Department of Education (2008) Every School a Good School.
A Strategy for Raising Achievement in Literacy & Numeracy. http://www.deni.gov.uk/literacy_and_numeracy_strategy_-_english.pdf
2. Linked Connecting Learning (September 2009)
3. Nursery World (2009). EYFS best practice: All about ...
4. Boyadzhyan, A. (2012). A Systematic Approach to Teach Phonics
Skills by Incorporating the Interactive Whiteboard: A Handbook for Second
5. Marjon News (25.06.09) `Appointment of new Visiting Professor.'
6. Gray, C. & Behan, S. (2006a) Invited presentation: Raising
Standards: In Support of the Linguistic Phonics Approach. CCEA.
Belfast, January 2006.
7. Gray, C. & Behan, S. (2006b) Invited Conference
Presentation. Evaluating partnership-based teacher education.
SCoTENS Annual Conference. Ramada Hotel, Belfast October 2006.
8. Gray, C., Behan, S., Dunn, J., Dunbar, C., Ferguson, J. &
Mitchell, D. (2006). The Impact of the Linguistic Phonics Approach on
Children's Reading, Writing & Spelling. Report Commissioned by
the Belfast Education & Library Board. Stranmillis University Press.
9. Gray, C., Behan, S., Dunn, J., Dunbar, C., Ferguson, J. &
Mitchell, D. (2007). `Added Value or a Familiar Face? The Impact of
Learning Support Assistants on Young Readers.' Journal of Early
Childhood Research, Vol. 5, Iss. 3, pp. 285-300.
10. Gray, C., Ferguson, J., Behan, S., Dunn, J., Dunbar, C., &
Mitchell, D. (2007). `Starting with the child's native language: the case
for the Linguistic Phonics approach.' International Journal of Early
Childhood Education, Vol. 15, Iss.1, pp.15-33.