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The listening box of tricks fails to hold magic

We don't need more objectives, let alone another 67, says Sue Palmer

It was a long time coming. Rumour had it due in autumn, then spring ...

summer ... then autumn again.

In primary literacy circles, people talked about "the long-awaited speaking and listening box". And longed for, since many believe the levelling-off of national standards in recent years is down to inadequate emphasis on speaking and listening in the National Literacy Strategy.

Finally, last winter, the box from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and NLS arrived in schools. Perhaps it was inevitable that something so anticipated would not live up to expectations, but I felt particularly let down by this package.

First, there are the objectives - another 67 for teachers to worry over, term by term from Year 1 to Y6. They are all fine and worthy. But if there's one thing primary teachers don't need at the moment, it's more objectives.

Oracy should be integrated into every part of every lesson we teach, not reduced to a selection of specific outcomes on a planning sheet, to be ticked when completed.

Then there is the level at which the materials are pitched. They are fine for middle-class children with extensive vocabularies and well-honed language skills.

But where teachers really need help is in developing the listening, language and attention spans of the many children from language-poor backgrounds whose speaking abilities are distressingly limited, or for those for whom English is an additional language.

Finally, it does not even start till Y1. To develop oral language - especially for those children described above - we must begin working in a structured, focused way as early as possible.

Many children now arrive in nursery and reception classes with extremely limited language. They need informed practitioners with access to effective strategies and resources to get them listening and talking, so that language delay and poor attention span does not lead into disaffection and behaviour problems. Y1 may be too late.

There are some good things in the speaking and listening box - useful video clips, practical ideas on cards which teachers will find helpful. But on the whole my verdict, and that of teachers I'm meeting around the country, is that it is a wasted opportunity. So perhaps it is time we stopped waiting for boxes, and started solving problems for ourselves.

Speaking and listening in the foundation stage will be addressed in a series of National Literacy Trust conferences (London, Birmingham, York) this spring, with Sue Palmer and Ros Bayley. Information on tel: 020 7828 2435


There are 67 speaking and listening objectives across four strands: speaking,listening, group discussion and interaction and drama.

Here are examples from the QCA:


Y1, term 1: To describe incidents or tell stories from their own experience, in an audible voice

Y3, term 3: to sustain conversation, explaining or giving reasons for their views or choices

Y5, term 2: to use and explore different question types

Group discussion and interaction

Y1, term 2: to take turns to speak, listen to others' suggestions and talk about what they are going to do

Y3, term 2: to actively include and respond to all members of the group

Y6, term 2: to consider examples of conflict and resolution, exploring language used

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