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Leading light of communication dies, aged 97

Christabel Burniston, a pioneer in the teaching of speaking and listening skills, died last week, aged 97. Her innovative methods of encouraging and assessing spoken language are now used with all age groups around the world.

In the post-war years, Mrs Burniston was a tireless supporter of drama - as a teacher of English, speech and drama, a county drama organiser for Lancashire and founder of the North West School of Speech and Drama.

In 1953, her conviction that good communication skills underpin self-confidence and social relationships led her to set up the English Speaking Board, a revolutionary departure from the elocution-based approach to spoken language common at the time.

The point of board assessment is not just to develop spoken language, but also to empower the speaker. Assessments take place in groups, with speakers and listeners exchanging opinions, and speakers respected as authorities in their chosen subjects, whatever their age.

The method's success has been well-proven in schools, colleges and businesses, and increasingly with non-native speakers of English. Its social implications are clear from a recent project in prisons in which levels of re-offending among prisoners taking ESB courses were cut by 25 per cent.

Mrs Burniston's own remarkable communication skills kept her in demand as a speaker, and she travelled widely, promoting the cause until well into her 80s. In later years, she wrote an autobiography and, at the age of 90, a historical novel, The Brass and the Velvet.

For more information about the English Speaking Board, see: www.esbuk.org

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