Communication skills are increasingly recognised as being key to educational success. Taking Stock, a survey in 2008 by the Confederation of British Industry, noted: "Oral communication skills are critical, with 39 per cent of employers aware that their employees lack these vital skills."
The report by the expert panel on the new national curriculum in December 2011 devotes a whole section to oracy, arguing for the link between speaking and listening skills and attainment.
At the same time, research for the Beth Johnson Foundation, which acts as an advocate for older people, has indicated that the under-25s and over-50s are the two groups who feel most marginalised, powerless and lacking a voice. With that in mind, From Age to Age was conceived. This innovative project, run by the English and Media Centre (EMC) and funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, aims to raise the profile of talk in the classroom by providing real-life opportunities for pupils to develop speaking and listening skills.
Three schools took part, two in London and one in Essex. Before the pupils and the older people in their communities met, they all participated in workshops to explore stereotypes and perceptions. The pupils also performed focused speaking and listening activities. The children and older people then met and interviewed each other on a range of topics, from childhood games and going out to parents and pocket money.
We hoped that the project would be powerful, but for some pupils it was transformative. Jordan, a pupil from Lambeth, South London, began with very low confidence in speaking and listening. As the project progressed, his skills and confidence grew, until in the final session he actually took the lead, conducting the interview for his group.
Teacher training days at the EMC have allowed us to share ideas, pedagogy and inspiration. Now From Age to Age also has a website, where you can download a toolkit with guidance for running your own project.
Barbara Bleiman is co-director of the EMC
For more information on From Age to Age, visit www.englishandmedia.co.ukagetoage
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