Deaf children to benefit from first Michael Young Prize

Dr Diana Burman is the winner of the first ever Michael Young Prize, sponsored by The Young Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The prize announced last night was conceived in honour of the founder of the ESRC the late Lord Michael Young, and aims to reward and encourage new researchers whose work offers genuine new insights and is likely to have an impact beyond academia.

Dr Burman, a former teacher of the deaf, took the first prize for ground-breaking research that helped her to develop a highly successful method for improving profoundly deaf children's English literacy.

This method uses morphemes - the smallest meaningful unit in the grammar of a language to teach spelling of English words. For example, the word unladylike contains three morphemes: un, lady and like. With one in 1,000 babies born profoundly deaf every year and only two per cent of these children leaving school able to read to an appropriate age-level Dr Burman's research has the potential to make a big impact on many young lives.

The deaf children taught using Dr Burman's method showed a 38 per cent improvement in their writing skills compared with only a 12 per cent improvement amongst the children who were taught not using the method. Similarly there was a 30 per cent improvement in the spelling assessment of children who were taught to use morphemes compared to a 3 per cent improvement among the children who were not taught using Burman's method.

"Deaf adolescent's writing often fails to mark important grammatical distinctions such as plural, past tense and different types of nouns - for example, they may write 'magic' when they mean 'magician'. Because they don't pay attention to these grammatical endings they have difficulty communicating in writing and interpreting texts. Teaching deaf children about morphemes effectively improves their text writing and comprehension".

Burman plans to use the 5,000 prize to create a pack of resources, for use by teachers and parents of deaf children which will help them to teach using morphemes. The prize money will also be used to fund visits to training centres for teachers of the deaf and participation in international conferences to increase awareness of her research.

Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC said, "The ESRC is thrilled to be working with The Young Foundation in order to encourage early career researchers to think about the active application of their research findings to policy and practice. One of the ESRC's key goals is getting research into practice and measuring the impact of that research. The Michael Young prize provides an excellent opportunity to do this."

Geoff Mulgan, director The Young Foundation added, "We were delighted with the range and quality of applicants. They show just how many newer academics are engaging with the world around them combining empirical research and practical action to improve peoples' lives. There were several potential winners amongst the shortlist but we thought that Diana Burman was a particularly outstanding example of how theory and practice can connect."

There were also two runners-up, Dr Michael Naughton and Dr Michelle Ryan, both awarded 500 to contribute towards the cost of undertaking communication with research users and the wider public.

Dr Naughton was awarded for his research titled 'Prisoners maintaining innocence: towards deeper understanding and effective reform'.

With many thousands of prisoners currently maintaining their innocence, Naughton has developed a system for classifying those prisoners maintaining their innocence into specific types, Naughton terms this a 'typology of innocence'. With his prize money he plans to make a public information film based on his typology which seeks to explain justice and wrongful convictions of the innocent. The audiences for this film range from the Home Office, campaigning groups and the various agencies that comprise the post conviction system through to prisoners themselves.

Dr Ryan's research seeks to understand the more subtle forms of gender discrimination encountered by women who reach the upper echelons of management Termed the 'glass cliff' Dr Ryan has identified that these circumstances are not confined to women but may also affect other marginalised groups such as those based on ethnicity, age or disability.

Ryan's prize money will contribute to raising awareness among minority groups of the glass cliff phenomenon as well as targeting HR professionals and policymakers.


For further information on any of the winners or shortlisted candidates contact:

Alexandra Saxon or Annika Howard
ESRC on telephone 01793 413032/413119
email [email protected]
[email protected]

Notes for editors

1. Dr Diana Burman trained as a teacher and subsequently teacher of the deaf. Diana took her M.A. at the University of Hertfordshire and her doctorate at Oxford Brookes University with her thesis entitled 'Using morphology to improve congenitally, profoundly deaf children's spelling and writing: a study with BSL users'.
Contact details: Dr Diana Burman
Department of Educational Studies, University of Oxford
Telephone: 01865 284893
Email: [email protected]

2. Dr Michael Naughton is a Lecturer in the School of Law and Department of Sociology, University of Bristol. He teaches undergraduates in the general area of criminal justice and postgraduates in the specific area of miscarriages of justice. He has written widely on issues related to miscarriages of justice and the wrongful conviction of the innocent for broadsheet newspapers, specialist magazines, newsletters and newspapers for prisoners maintaining innocence and given newspaper, radio and television interviews.
Contact details: Dr Michael Naughton
School of Law and Department of Sociology University of Bristol
Telephone: 0117 954 5323
Email: [email protected]

3. Dr Michelle Ryan obtained her PhD from the Australian National University and is currently an Academic Fellow at the University of Exeter, funded by the Research Council of the UK. She is a member of the Social, Economic, and Organizational Research Group in the School of Psychology. Research into the glass cliff is funded by a large grant from the European Social Fund, and was recently short-listed for the THES Research Project of the Year.
Contact details: Dr Michelle Ryan
School of Psychology, University of Exeter
Telephone: 01392 269120
Email: [email protected]

4. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It provides independent, high quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC total expenditure in 2005 06 was 135million. At any time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes. More at

5. The Young Foundation was founded in 2005, formed from the merger of the Institute of Community Studies and the Mutual Aid Centre. The foundation is a centre for social innovation identifying and understanding unmet social needs and developing practical initiatives to address them. The foundation works in many fields - including health, education, housing and cities and bringing together research and action, including the creation of new enterprises. The Young Foundation has been established to re-energise this powerful combination of research and practical action. More at

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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