UCL BEAMS Enterprise Award

Marketing the resources of the Survey of English Usage

funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

Summary Case for Support


The Survey of English Usage (SEU) is a world-leading English language research unit at UCL founded by Professor The Lord Quirk in 1959. It is widely recognised for its research on present-day English and has produced many publications, including the Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, which is considered a standard reference work in the field. It is also well-known for its pioneering work in the area of corpus linguistics. A linguistic corpus is a specialised, searchable database of written and spoken material, compiled for the purposes of language research. The SEU houses three corpora amounting to over 1.4m words of fully parsed (grammatically analysed) English sentences, which span a wide range of genres and contexts, and include sound recordings. These corpora have been used all over the world for scholarly research, and are state-of-the art resources.

As an interdisciplinary research unit at the crossroads of grammar, language analysis, computing and experimental methodology, the Survey has attracted funding from a wide range of sources including the AHRC, ESRC and EPSRC.

The Grammar for Schools project

Currently a team at the SEU led by Bas Aarts, Professor of English Linguistics at UCL, are developing a web-based platform for English language teaching and learning called Grammar for Schools. This platform is designed to help secondary school teachers of English to deliver the requirements of the UK National Curriculum in the area of English grammar teaching. As will be described in detail below, the aim is to commercialise this platform, in conjunction with a major British publisher in order to achieve a successful knowledge transfer outcome within the Arts and Humanities Faculty.

Using material from the SEU corpora, the platform contains classroom lessons on word classes, phrases, clauses and sentences. It also contains teaching material on how written and spoken language differ, on the different uses of English in diverse settings, and on how to analyse texts from a range of genres. What’s more, there are exercises, a glossary and mini research projects. The modular system forms a programme of lessons that can work together as a whole or as smaller, standalone activities through Key Stages 3-4 of the National Curriculum, and into more advanced and open-ended work at AS and A level. The platform also contains CPD resources. We have demonstrated and tested the platform in secondary schools and in teacher training colleges where it generated a lot of interest among teachers and students. We also showcased it at two conferences of the professional body for English teachers, the National Association for the Teaching of English (NATE) where our session was doubly oversubscribed, indicating that there is significant potential demand for the proposed UCL product.

An important competitive advantage of the platform over existing interactive solutions is its extensibility. The interface between the corpus and the teaching materials allows each component to be extended independently. We can add resources, activities and lessons as the demands of the secondary English curriculum change, or extend the platform to overseas markets (see below). At the moment schools are encouraged to focus on GCSE Spoken Language Study. With a curriculum review to be published by the Government in 2012 we expect to see other areas given increased prominence, e.g. spelling, punctuation and reading skills. We can simply add resources to our platform to cater for these areas.

The opportunity: a description of the proposed project

The aim of this Enterprise Award application is to progress the development of the Grammar for Schools platform to the point where a commercialisation partnerships can be finalised with a major educational publisher. We have had discussions with a number of UK publishers of secondary school teaching materials. They have expressed an interest in working with us for three reasons:

  • The platform fills a significant identifiable niche in the educational marketplace that teachers need help with the teaching of English grammar.
  • Our content is recognised as innovative and effective, in particular because it has been developed closely with teachers and trialled in classrooms.
  • It allows publishers to move away from print-based media to digital media.

The opportunity is huge. Grammar for Schools is focused on a clear educational need and addresses a very real demand for tailor-made resources aimed at secondary school students, while at the same time offering support to teachers to gain the competence and confidence to teach grammar. There is currently no competing product to our platform available.

The project’s aims fit in with the remit of the EPSRC’s Information and Communications Technology panel, as outlined here.

The team

The Principal Investigator on this project will be Professor Bas Aarts, who has an extensive track record in leading research projects. He will manage the activities of the UCL team and will liaise with them in regular meetings. On average he will spend four hours per week on the project. We propose to employ Sean Wallis, Senior Research Fellow at UCL, and an IT specialist with over 21 years of experience in the fields of artificial intelligence and computational linguistics. Wallis has worked on many projects including the EPSRC-funded grant The development of an automatic parsing system using the ICE corpus as linguistic knowledge base (EPSRC GR/K75033). Two of our recent ESRC projects were rated as ‘outstanding’. Wallis developed the web-based platform, integrated the corpus technology with the website, and designed and constructed the website. He will work as a programmer on the computing side. We would also like to employ Dan Clayton, an experienced English secondary school teacher and examiner for the AQA Exam Board. He developed our resources (lesson plans, exercises, teacher notes, etc.) and visited schools and colleges to test the resources. He also organised CPD sessions at UCL for school teachers. This outreach has proven to be particularly beneficial, both in understanding the market and developing viable and interesting resources. Clayton will work as the pedagogical expert on the project.

Strategic value to UCL

The project presents an opportunity for UCL to secure a substantial knowledge transfer collaboration with a leading UK educational publisher and which has the potential to generate both research and licensing income streams for UCL. The proposed collaboration will provide a bridgehead into English Language Teaching (ELT), which is a huge industry world-wide. Indeed, as Ammon, Dittmar and Klaus (2006) note: “The English teaching business is now second in importance to the British economy, after North Sea Oil”, with a recent British Council survey estimating its value to be around $1.5billion per annum. Importantly, the market for ELT is viewed as one that is growing, driven largely by mobility and employment trends in countries such as India, China and Brazil. For example, in India the adult market for ELT (aged 20+) is estimated to be worth around $450million per annum, with a 16% annual growth rate, driven by the importance of English within the growing IT sector.

This project is also part of a wider set of knowledge transfer activities within the Survey of English Usage which includes the development of the first UCL paid-for App for the Apple iPhone and other mobile devices. The SEU is the first Arts and Humanities research unit to work closely with UCL Business with a view to commercializing its resources. We believe that this project will lead the way for further projects which would help A&H departments to generate new sources of income in an adverse funding climate.

This page last modified 28 November, 2018 by Survey Web Administrator.