Academic Research

Functional skills within Prisons –  C-Pen ExamReader and ReaderPen supporting Functional Skills in English, levels 1-3


Nearly 3 in 10 people assessed in prison in 2015-16 reported that they had a learning disability or difficulty (Skills Funding Agency, 2016).  Four-fifths of prisoners with learning disabilities or difficulties report having problems reading prison information, they report difficulties with expressing themselves and understanding certain words (Talbot, 2008).  2% of the general population has a learning disability in comparison to 7% within the criminal justice system (NHS England, 2016).  The overwhelming concept when reading such figures is the high proportion of prisoners who have not been formally diagnosed with a learning disability or difficulty, the figures are based on self-identification.  Consequently, understanding the block such disabilities can create when wishing to access all the information you are to agree and adhere to during your prison sentence, requires positive and proven approaches to teaching and learning.  Additionally, rehabilitation encourages the need for purposeful activities such as education, which have been proven to cut re-offending behaviours. 

 There are a myriad of jobs available to the prisoner, however a certain level of education is required to enable a successful application for these roles.  Consequently, assessments are undertaken to find out the level of education the applicant is currently situated at.  It is during this process identification of learning difficulties or disabilities can be recognised and a programme of appropriate education, such as functional skills, can be commenced.

The study hypothesis: the use of assistive technology, in this instance the C-Pen ExamReader and ReaderPen, could be encouraging and supportive of learners within prisons to engage in active learning with guidance from peer mentors and tutors.  Furthermore, independent learning, when education and learning can be interrupted with little notice, could be evidenced as a resource to be further explored and encouraged; to improve educational outcomes for prisoners.  


This study focused on prisoners who may have no recognizable ‘skills’ and the hindrance this creates when unable to read.  All the participants in this study had two things in common; they had committed a crime and they are unable to read.  Their inability to read may be due to several factors such as dyslexia, environment; home and community; culture and/or language barriers.  One may consider a causal link between environment, abilities, experiences and illiteracy impacting on limitation of choice and criminal behaviour (Clark and Dugdale, 2008).  I was interested in gaining insight as to whether opportunities to learn to read, would offer better outcomes in the future; currently 60% of prisoners leave prison having gained no work skills and/or no educational and training qualifications (Coates, 2016).  Having the chance to make a choice, and change, may not only improve rehabilitation outcomes and job opportunities and increase positive results for educators, but just as importantly, may improve the prisoner’s emotional experiences due to accessing the written word.

The impact of using a Reader Pen on Year 10 learners in a multicultural urban school.


Research conducted by the Department for Education in 2013, found that 17% of 15 year-olds in England do not have a minimum level of proficiency in literacy. In 2013, just over one in eight secondary school learners also had English as an additional language (EAL) and these learners were in the majority in 117 Birmingham schools (NALDIC, 2013).  It has been argued that it takes ten years for a learner to move through the five stages of second language acquisition from no language to fluency (Stats Wales, 2013) ; a high proportion of these learners with EAL have not been in UK schools for this length of time and, although many may be competent in conversational language or Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) (Cummins, 2009), and seem therefore fully proficient, they are likely to be challenged by the transition to both receptive and expressive academic language essential for examination success at 16 (e.g. Topping, 2018). These learners are therefore vulnerable and at risk of under-performing in those public examinations so crucial to their future.


Year 2:  Continuation of the Study of a 9-year-old child with dyslexic tendencies - the C-Pen ReaderPen for every day classroom-based work

In the early part of 2016 a primary aged student, Hester**, undertook the DST-J (2004) screening due to significant difficulties with reading and spelling.  She demonstrated six signs of dyslexia and therefore her school introduced standardised practices to support her disability.  Hester’s parents also provided the school with a C-Pen ReaderPen, hoping assistive technology could be incorporated alongside other strategies to support their child.

During the Autumn of 2016 the ReaderPen Study Team became aware of Hester using the ReaderPen and a long-term collaborative study was established, working with the school to gain insight and understanding of the use of assistive technology within the primary classroom setting.  (Franklin et al., 2017).

During the first year of study Hester gained confidence through the knowledge and support of her dyslexic confident Year 3 teacher (BC).  84% of teachers have informed the Driver Youth Trust (2014) that while they feel it is important to be trained in how to teach children with dyslexia, they currently lack sufficient training and feel they are failing these children.  Hester’s Year 4 teacher (AG), may have felt she did not have enough knowledge of dyslexia; however, she was enthusiastic and willing to use her teaching knowledge and insight to identify Hester’s learning styles, her abilities and use of this information enabled her to set encouraging learning challenges.

This second year’s study focused on the use of the other functions available on the ReaderPen.  Hester and her previous teacher (BC), had worked together to build confidence in Hester to reach for the pen when she was unable to read or decode a word; often prompted; creating a habitual behaviour.  However, the strategies now required specific guidance as to when and how the pen should be used when accessing written text outside specific reading time.  Therefore, the focus was to promote Hester’s independent learning, practicing keeping on task; to enable her to keep up with peers; to use the pen in other lessons; widening the identity of the pen by using it to record ideas and concepts for creative writing; and using it for pronunciation support for spelling tasks.  We also wished to promote and support the teacher’s (AG) own desire to further her knowledge of dyslexia.

The research question: How can assistive technology, the C-Pen ReaderPen, diminish the growing evidenced difference between children who have no reading difficulties and children with reading difficulties such as dyslexia?  



The following qualifications are required by those wishing to take on the role of SENDCo/SENCO;  

  • to be a qualified teacher and  

  • achieve a recognised award in Special Educational Needs Coordination within three years of their appointment.   

Which, in layman terms, indicates a large amount of on the job training.  Furthermore, a successful SENDCo requires a great deal of knowledge, understanding and personal qualities to excel in this challenging role, such as: 

  • planning and organising,  

  • adapting to the changing needs of the child, knowledge of the impact the disability/difficulty has on the child to enable them to access education, 

  • effective communication with children, the family and other professionals,  

  • understanding the myriad challenges each child’s disability or need will present throughout their educational journey. 

However, before choosing to become a SENDCo, you must first qualify as a teacher, therefore how much training does a teacher receive to support and understand the variety of disabilities and difficulties a student may present with?  Research on the confidence which newly qualified teachers felt about their training when working with dyslexia revealed that:   

While a Government survey of newly qualified teachers (NQTs) indicates that training for teachers in how to teach reading has improved slightly in recent years, a third (32%) of NQTs in primary schools still rated their training in teaching children to read as satisfactory or poor.” (Driver Youth Trust, 2016) 

The Driver Youth Trust (DYT), is a charity which supports children and young people who struggle with literacy, particularly dyslexia.  The DYT wish to challenge and change current policies to improve knowledge around dyslexia and to promote understanding of consequences a child can experience when unable to read; not only with their self-esteem but also their long-term goals, (The Dyslexia Research Trust, 2018). 

Whilst newly Qualified Teachers may naturally feel a degree of uncertainty and worry about their skills in literacy education, surprisingly mature and experienced teachers also express concerns when teaching children with reading difficulties. 

“8 out of 10 (84%) teachers thought it was very important that teachers are trained in teaching children with dyslexia.  They do not want to be sent into classrooms without the skills they need to teach dyslexic children.” (DYT, 2016). 

Well-established literacy strategies being used in schools may only suit the needs of a proportion of children.  For the remainder of children, an individual approach is required for their specific need to be assessed.  A teacher who feels confident teaching children with reading difficulties may explore and consider alternative methods, so the use of identification is a powerful tool in finding the right approach for each child. 

As previously indicated, dyslexia is a disability, but one which may not necessarily be apparent compared with a child who has a visual or physical disability.  A disabled child requires the right support and tools to enable them to ‘live’ and access their education.  A dyslexic child may not require a pair of glasses or a wheelchair to enable them to access everyday living but, equally they have a right to access education.  If teachers could have greater awareness and understanding around the wide range of differentiation within dyslexia then a variety of assistive tools could become accepted within education, which should not be considered ‘cheating’, but can enable a dyslexic child to have increased access to learning.   

We have been very fortunate to work with a SENDCo who supports these concepts.  She wishes to work with the teachers within her school to enable them to feel confident when teaching children with literacy difficulties.  Furthermore, the school not only wishes to gain insight in how to improve and increase reading within all lessons, but to think ‘outside the box’, to enable each child to have a toolkit of strategies that will continue to help them in their future beyond school.    

Our research hypothesis: Focused use of the ReaderPen and ExamReader alongside Teacher/SENDCo led support and belief in the assistive technology, will help a child to gain improved knowledge, confidence and result in a marked increase of positive attitude towards education leading to the fostering of independent learning skills; which can be used both for education and life outside the school environment.   


Study of an 8-year-old child with dyslexic tendencies and the C-Pen Reader for every day classroom based work


Supporting young children with dyslexic tendencies is not only a worry for parents, but also for teachers as cited in an article from Dyslexia Action (2017)2.  74% of those teaching dyslexic children feel dissatisfied with their initial teacher training, questioning whether if it provides them with the skills to identify and teach children with dyslexia.  Often dyslexic children are incredibly skilled and intelligent; therefore, it is imperative early identification of dyslexic tendencies are recognised to enable the implementation of the right teaching/learning style for that child (as recommended by educational psychologist Dr. Gavin Reid (2017))7.  However, reading problems can occur due to other issues such as medical and learning difficulties.  Early identification of dyslexia can prove to be challenging. 

When a clear identification has been achieved, teachers require a bag of strategies and knowledge such as access to supportive guides; for example, the Dyslexic Screener (available online)3; awareness and instruction on the use of up- to-date available assistive technology; which in turn will enable them to support the dyslexic child; and confidence to explore the child’s learning styles to help the child reach their full potential.    Finally, the teacher will need to understand the individual child’s emotional well-being, Rosie Bissett, (Dyslexia Ireland chief executive cited in Irish Examiner, 2017)8 recently stated “It is crucial that teachers understand dyslexia while at the same time having expectations for the child…”.

There are several research papers relating to assistive technology and students with learning disabilities; livescribe pen, (Harper et al. 2016)4 android software platforms, (Tariq et al. 2016)9 mobile learning (Alghabban et al. 2016)1.  However, many of these devices are aimed at the older student.  Studies involving primary aged children focus on computer-based training programmes rather than smaller hand-held devices which may encourage independence.

This study evaluated existing dyslexic teaching strategies; sounding out, phonics, learning words from sight, multi-sensory activities and aligning these tried and tested approaches with a device which promotes independent learning; the C-Pen Reader.

A further focus for this study was to gain understanding of how a primary aged child could develop independent skills and habitual behaviours which would support their future educational journey.  The dyslexic child requires continual feedback to confirm their success, they require extra time; to enable others to listen to them read; and they need to be motivated.

Extra time to practice reading and sounding out text is of great import to the dyslexic child, followed by confirmation from the adult (who often will have 20-30 other children in the classroom), before continuing with their work.  Obviously, this impacts on the dyslexic child’s chance of achieving all the work set in each lesson due to the extra minutes they require to ensure they are confident with their learning.   The C-Pen Reader was deemed the perfect device to promote such efficiency, with confirmation coming from the pen rather than an adult.

The research question: “How effective would the early introduction of assistive technology be to the primary aged child, to encourage emotional development, independent learning and lead to positive reading outcomes?”

Mature Students with identified disabilities


Today’s mature student has a myriad of supportive technology at hand but may find it incredibly difficult to identify which technology will provide a best fit for their individualistic needs, after all one size does not fit all.

Liaising with a large city based university in the North of England, we were in a unique position to ask them to compare the C-Pen Reader with three other pieces of technology, Read and Write, Select & Speak and Claro Reader.

Hypothesis: The C-Pen reader would receive favorable comparison in relation to other supportive technology in trials undertaken by mature students with disabilities, due to its portability and variety of features.  

English as an Additional Language


In 2013 just over a million pupils in England were identified as those for who English as an Additional Language (EAL) (cited in Strand, Malmberg and Hall, 2015) attended a mainstream educational establishment. 

EAL Students historically have been on a par as their First Language English (FLE) peers when undertaking GCSE’s. 58.3% of EAL students achieved 5+ A*-C in comparison to 60.9% FLE students. However, identified strengths have been in maths, as opposed to reading tasks. To date research has suggested the additional funding used to support EAL students has been influential in positive outcomes for this group of students. Current funding, for all students, has been cut; with this in mind it may well be prudent for secondary schools to consider alternate supportive strategies which continue to enable the EAL student to achieve academic success. 

The study is one of an initial growth of interest studies in relation to alternative supportive tools. This study will focus on the C-Pen Reader. EAL students were each given a C-Pen Reader for use in the classroom, free periods and home study. The students were encouraged to use the pen for social reading alongside encouraging their parents to make use of the pen; studies such as that conducted by Desforges and Abouchaar (2003) have suggested the importance of parental involvement in a child’s education. STUDY OF ENGLISH AS ADDITIONAL LANGUAGE STUDENTS AND THE SUPPORTIVE USE OF THE C.PEN READER - FEBRUARY 16, 2017 3 

As a first research paper on reader pens, this initial study will concentrate on suggestions for future studies alongside the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the research findings. 

Hypothesis: Use of the C-Pen Reader by EAL students will support them to gain understanding of any written text provided in lessons and enhance positivity of emotional well-being; namely confidence and attitude to learning.