Secondary Talk

Secondary Talk: Listening to Pupils

A blog by Lead Communication Advisor, Maxine Burns

Just before Christmas we had our termly Validation of Good Practice meeting where schools who have been engaged with Secondary Talk present their evidence to a panel at I CAN.

That day I presented evidence from Blessed Hugh Farringdon Catholic School in Reading, who met standards at Enhanced Level through the range of their work. While I was writing their report last week, I reflected more about what some Year 9 pupils there told me about language and communication.

They knew, for example, that as well as helping them to meet and make new friends, effective communication skills were necessary for school: “You communicate in every class in school”this is something that can be challenging to get some teachers in some schools to understand.

They were also confident that they knew the difference between formal and informal language, for example knowing that “You might use more formal language when you first meet someone to set a good impression.” Not every young person in Year 9 in the UK knows how to do this.

These students were also very clear on what kinds of environments helped them learn; many of which have language and communication skills (those of the staff as well as the students) at their heart. Classrooms where it’s quiet, for example, where not everyone is talking at once were good. But they also highlighted that if a teacher insisted on silence or if it was too quiet, this could be equally difficult: “Like you’re not sure if you’re allowed to talk to a partner to check something.”

When I asked them directly “What do teachers do to help you learn best?” their replies could have been taken right out of the guidance contained in the Secondary Talk manuals:

  • Let us do things, not just listen all the time
  • Talk to us in smaller groups, not just talk to the whole class
  • Explain what words mean
  • Do stuff to make words stay in our heads, like make word posters
  • Stop discussion and ask us questions
  • Check that people are talking about the work

These students have had the advantage of being in a school and working with staff who understand the importance of language and communication skills, and who have worked hard to make adjustments to their teaching so that the development of these skills is embedded. The work paid off, not just in what students noticed about what helps them, but also in how much better they achieved when more focus was given to teaching vocabulary for example.

It’s success stories like this that make me love my work and very proud of what I CAN and committed schools can achieve together through our Talk programmes.

For more information about Secondary Talk visit