Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Writing development

Progression in writing and the Northern Ireland Levels for Writing

A research review undertaken for CCEA by

David Wray and Jane Medwell

University of Warwick


In writing about the development of written language in children aged 7 to 14, Andrew Wilkinson, a pioneer in this area, made the comment that “Development obviously takes place, but does not take place obviously” (Wilkinson et al, 1980, 2). Wilkinson here is alluding to a persistent problem in the research and pedagogic literature about writing development, that is the fact that, for all it is obvious that the writing of 14 year olds is likely to show developments from the writing of 11 year olds, which in turn will show developments from that of 7 year olds, the nature of these developments is only imprecisely known. The problem rests in a lack of common agreement about just what is meant by ‘development’ in writing, which has in turn led to disagreement about what counts as effective pedagogy in writing. If teachers and researchers disagree about what it means to improve in writing, they might be expected also to disagree about how such improvements might be fostered in schools and classrooms. Several studies have indicated that the writing experiences of many pupils in British primary classrooms in the mid 1990s were ‘fragmentary and discontinuous’ (Webster, Beveridge & Reed, 1996, 147), and that there was little evidence of progression in teaching or an awareness by teachers of appropriate developmental expectations.

One of the major purposes of this research is to try to disentangle the multiple strands of current research and pedagogy in writing, in order to arrive at a commonly agreed framework for measuring, and enhancing, development and progression in the mastery of writing among school-aged children.

This research was sponsored by the Council for the Curriculum Examinations & Assessment, Northern Ireland, and was completed in 2006. The final report of the project is available as:

Wray, D. & Medwell, J. (2006) Progression in writing and the Northern Ireland Levels for Writing, Research review commissioned by CCEA, Northern Ireland. Coventry: University of Warwick