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Jean Gross, former government Communication Champion, shares concerns about the place of speaking and listening in the future school curriculum

I’m getting worried about what may happen to the teaching of spoken language. It’s great that Ofsted are focusing on how well schools and teachers are promoting good communication skills, but does the average inspector really know what they are looking for? Then there’s the revised primary National Curriculum proposals published by the DfE, which do not have distinct speaking and listening programmes of study.

On top of all this come the recent Ofqual proposals that assessments of speaking and listening should not contribute to the overall GCSE English grade. This is what Ofqual say: “The draft (English curriculum) content, on which the Department for Education is consulting, includes a requirement that students must be able to demonstrate presentation skills in a formal setting and listen and respond appropriately to spoken language, including to questions and feedback. These important skills cannot be assessed by written exam. Alternative assessment arrangements must be used. We propose that exam boards should design the assessment in which spoken language skills are assessed and that the assessment should be administered and marked by students’ teachers. The outcome of this assessment should not contribute to the grade; it should be reported separately on the certificate.”

Of course, if speaking and listening skills are not part of the grade students get, they will not be taught. And these proposals are bizarre and inconsistent – teacher assessment in science is to be allowed as part of the science grade, and Ofqual will have to come up with some form of oral assessment in modern foreign languages that does count towards grades.

Ofqual next say ‘We have considered how greater assurance of the standard could be achieved. All speaking and listening assessments could be recorded, allowing exam board moderators to review a sample of assessments in each school. Moderators could then confirm or revise the teacher’s mark. Alternatively, the speaking and listening assessments could be conducted and marked by a visiting external examiner appointed by the exam board. Both of these options would raise cost and manageability issues for schools.’

So we are not going to include speaking and listening in GCSE grades because it costs too much? What about the costs of not attending to oral language skills throughout children’s time in school  – the 47% of employers who say they can’t get school leavers with the oral communication skills  needed for a twenty-first century economy, the 65% of young offenders who have language difficulties… I could go on.

We don’t yet know what the outcome of Ofqual’s consultation on their proposals will be, but it is feeling to me pretty much like a done deal.

And yet there is so much that schools can do to improve communication skills. During my two years as Communication Champion I saw fantastic practice across the country, a lot of it (like the great ‘A Chance to Talk‘ initiative) stimulated and supported by I CAN.

It is this great practice I have collected together in my new book ‘Time to Talk‘. If we could just use some of this good practice, from early years through to secondary, we could make such a difference to children’s academic progress and – as I CAN has consistently shown – to their life chances.

By Jean Gross, former government Communication Champion

You can buy Jean Gross’ book ‘Time to Talk’ from Routledge. Please quote ACED13 when ordering for a 20% discount for I CAN Communicate readers.