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Infants told to speak properly

Children should be taught to speak clearly, listen and hold a discussion by the time they are seven, new guidelines published this week say.

Lessons in speaking, listening, discussion and drama have been outlined in guidance being sent jointly by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and National Primary Strategy to all primary schools in England.

The project follows worries over speaking skills, prompted by Professor Robin Alexander's study of five countries, published in 2001.

Professor Alexander, of Cambridge university, found children in England were more likely to read silently or to the teacher during lessons.

They were also more likely to talk to each other rather than to address the whole class, and to speak briefly rather than deliberately and at length.

Concern about speaking skills has increased recently.

A Basic Skills Agency poll earlier this year revealed that half of teachers said children were now starting school unable to speak audibly, be understood by others, respond to simple instructions, recognise their own names or even count to five.

However, there are worries that the new guidelines impose yet more restrictions on teachers' professional freedom.

Sue Palmer, literacy consultant, said: "It's wonderful to have more emphasis on talk. But what worries me is that this will seem to teachers to be another thing imposed from on high. We were promised that things were now going to be more bottom-up."

The guidance, which includes teaching objectives, a video and handbook, is the first major publication of the National Primary Strategy.

It shows how progression through the primary years could work. For instance, in group discussion, infants should be able to ask and answer relevant questions and suggest ideas; Year 3 and 4 should use talk to plan and organise work in a group, while top juniors should be able to plan and manage work in groups with minimum supervision.

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