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A systematic review of the impact of ICT on literacy learning in English of learners between 5 and 16, for whom English is a second or additional language. Parent-governor perspective

Summary of results

It is generally accepted nowadays that the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the classroom is necessary for effective literacy teaching for young learners for whom English is not a first language. However, systematic research of the evidence shows that while the use of ICT increases pupils' enjoyment of lessons relating to English as a second or additional language (ESL/EAL), there is not yet proof that it adds to their efficacy.

Research question

What is the impact of ICT on literacy learning for students aged 5-16, for whom English is a second or additional language?


School governors are expected to ensure that all students in their schools have equal learning opportunities. When there are learners disadvantaged by not knowing English, it is important that they be taught as soon and as effectively as possible so as to be able to integrate fully into all aspects of school life. Governors need to be able to make decisions on how best to target scarce school resources toward the tools that are most useful to achieve language proficiency.

Researchers, led by Professor Richard Andrews and Carole Torgerson at the University of York, have undertaken a systematic review of research into the impact of ICT on reading and writing. Systematic reviewing involves a rigorous methodology for identifying, analysing and summarising research studies so as to provide an unbiased overview of current knowledge on a particular topic. UK health service professionals undertake systematic reviews of research worldwide to inform National Health Service (NHS) clinical practice and guidance in many areas, such as prescribing drugs. This innovative work by Professor Andrews, Carole Torgerson and their team is funded by the Department for Education and Skills through the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) in London.


From a total of 2,319 potentially relevant research reports identified, the team narrowed down to 212 by a rigorous screening process. Of these, eight met the criteria for in-depth review: four focusing on primary schools and four on secondary.

A detailed description of the methodology used is contained in the full review report.


Unfortunately for governors faced with hard practical decisions, such as how best to invest money set aside for students needing ESL/EAL classes, the results of this review are inconclusive. There was some evidence that word processing could improve writing and editing quality, and that the use of ICT made the classes more enjoyable for students. The review, however, did not 'prove' that students learned better or faster using ICT because the research found was insufficiently rigorous to draw reasonable evidence. The number of in-depth studies was small, they included little information about classroom practices or aspects of bilingualism, and the studies tend to date from the early 1990s and were not therefore up-to-date with the latest technologies.


While school governors look to their head teacher for leadership in educational decisions, they are expected more and more to be in a position both to challenge and demand evidence for the direction in which their school is going. Reviews such as this one and others in the overall project begin to address the need for objective, inclusive information on a range of issues that often translate, at school level, into funding choices. One of the 'givens' in today's world is that ICT is absolutely necessary for all aspects of learning. Consequently, a great deal of money is spent on computers, software and teacher time, ensuring that both are used as fully as possible. It would be gratifying to be certain that this is the best use of school budgets.

It is to be hoped that this kind of research will lead to everyone at school level, including governors, proactively asking researchers to focus on matters of practical interest. It is disappointing that so few of the studies already done were of use. Given the massive investment of time and resources in ICT in schools, and the need for evidence-based education, it would be good to think that the future will bring improvement.

The parent governor is Chair of Governors at a York secondary school and a member of the Advisory Group for the review. This perspective is written in a personal capacity.

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