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Ofqual’s plan to abandon speaking and listening is ‘bad news’ for EAL students, ex-top adviser says

Removing speaking and listening from English GCSEs is “bad news” for thousands of students, according to a recently retired senior government schools adviser.

Sue Hackman has warned that the proposal from exams regulator Ofqual to stop speaking and listening performances contributing towards GCSE grades from 2014 will disadvantage the growing number of students with English as an additional language (EAL).

Schools will still be expected to teach speaking and listening as it remains part of the national curriculum for English. But Ms Hackman, who until Easter was the Department for Education’s chief adviser on school standards, says that its absence from GCSEs – and therefore the main school accountability measure – will be damaging and “depress its profile in schools”.

“For thousands of EAL learners – and they are a growing proportion of our population – this is bad news,” she told TES. “The retreat to paper language is not the best way to induct pupils into the living language.

“There is a danger that teachers will feel that speaking and listening assessment has been rather downgraded and therefore they may feel they can’t afford the time to devote to it,” she said.

“Good writers always need to be good speakers and listeners, and EAL learners have that extra mountain to climb. Until you have got the conventions of language in your mouth you can’t think through ideas. In learning terms it is still absolutely crucial.”

Ofqual is proposing that the results of speaking and listening tests be reported on GCSE certificates but only as a separate mark that will not count towards the final exam grade.

The watchdog suggested the change to English and English language GCSEs – which, it said, “have proved to be poorly designed” – as a response to the grading controversy that engulfed the qualifications last year.

An Ofqual consultation on the proposal closed in June. A spokesman said that responses were still being considered but it intended to make an announcement before the start of term.

Ms Hackman is also concerned that no extra training is being offered to teachers who will have to introduce the government’s new national curriculum for English. The curriculum includes “closer attention to grammar”, she said, but the “teaching force was educated during an absence of grammar from schools”.

The former adviser said she did not blame the government for leaving training “in the hands of schools” because “it doesn’t have the money”. But she noted: “The last government invested heavily in training when they asked schools to overhaul the curriculum. This government could do more to help even if they don’t have the money.

“They might support a directory of people who had the expertise or companies who had the expertise to deliver training. [They] could also do more to commission research in terms of what works when teaching grammar.”

Ms Hackman said that the first compulsory national spelling and grammar (Spag) tests, administered to half a million 10- and 11-year-old students in May, had been “shockingly easy”, although she expected them to get tougher.


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