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This is one core skill that enhances learning

I should like to defend core skills in communication from the criticisms made by Alan Smithers (TES, October 6).

In research work that I carried out in the late 1980s, into the perceptions of English language needs in post-16 education, there was universal belief that communication skills - the skill to use language competently and confidently for a variety of purposes - should form a more important part of curricula.

This was expressed by examining boards, employers, education managers, teachers and, most importantly I think, by students.

The study of English at school is not in itself always sufficient to meet the language needs of people in contemporary life. Some students, for a variety of reasons, benefit little from school English; many others need to continue their development of language skills in the teenage years.

The fact is that many young people feel self-conscious about their use of language, justifiably or not, and would like some help to develop their use of language. This bears out the findings of every major government report on English.

Despite the apparently central place given to English in school curricula, Newbolt (1921), Bullock (1975) and Kingman (1988) have criticised the insufficient attention given to English language skills in education and have advocated curriculum reform.

Recent reports underline a need to improve the communication competence of young people, as a foundation for many aspects of modern life. Walker (The Cost of Communication Breakdown, 1995) showed that communication failure in Britain is very costly in terms of human misery and lost productivity. A Basic Skills Agency report this year showed a very strong correlation between low basic skills of parents and low attainment of children. The link is particularly strong for literacy skills and shows that failure to develop communication skills in one generation will certainly harm the next.

The increased emphasis on English in the national curriculum and the introduction of communication as a core skill in general national vocational qualifications may have the potential to meet the perennially-recognised need to improve the language skills of learners.

The introduction of communication as a core skill may also have beneficial effects on curriculum delivery, encouraging more teamwork among teachers, a move away from narrow subject specialism to broader educational goals, and more open styles of classroom communication which engage students more actively in the process of learning.

A recent report from Solomon (Student case-studies in the pilot year of GNVQ, 1995) concluded that, "when effectively delivered, communication enhanced learning".

DR JOE HARKIN Senior lecturer in post-compulsory education School of Education Oxford Brookes University

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