Significant backtracking over speaking and listening

With the publication of the near-final version of the new national curriculum comes the suggestion that one minor revision of primary English could signal breakthrough for those attempting to reject the government's direction of travel.

The seemingly anonymous change is to move the various requirements of speaking and listening into a separate section of its own labelled, importantly, "Speaking and Listening" - in a prominent slot in primary English.

This is a nuanced point, since all these goals were in the earlier iteration. For example, the requirement that five-year-olds would be expected to recite poems by heart and discuss books they have read could be found in the February version under the "reading comprehension" section.

But the creation of a separate section will be welcomed by many in the educational establishment described by education secretary Michael Gove as "the blob".

The question of whether to separate or integrate speaking and listening has a fraught history. But never more so than in June 2012, when Michael Gove's department published the new national curriculum's programmes of study, in which it seemed spoken language had taken a backwards step - the actual goals were subsumed into reading and writing. And this remained the case in a revised draft in February.

So sensitive was the issue that a group of 100 academics signed a letter deploring that, among many other things, "speaking and listening, drama and modern media have almost disappeared from English".

But now they are (mostly) back. Today's new document includes 13 statements of spoken language skills that are to be taught from Years 1 to 6, including participating in debates, gaining and maintaining the interest of the listener and using spoken language to develop understanding through "speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas".

The rest of the English curriculum for primary stays the same as in the draft, complete with a strong emphasis on phonics and 235 spellings to learn. So for the "establishment" there remain many other battles to fight.

Helen Ward

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