The emphasis placed on speaking and listening is helping a south London primary to improve. Helen Ward reports
The art of oration is so strong at Edmund Waller primary school that children as young as five think nothing of speaking in front of 400 people, without the aid of a microphone.
Yet almost a third of the 445 pupils at the south London school do not speak English as their first language. The children reflect the wide ethnic mix of Lewisham with half coming from minority groups including Chinese, Spanish, Turkish, Somali and Vietnamese.
Two part-time ethnic minority achievement strategy teachers and a full-time assistant help to teach these pupils. English teaching revolves around speaking and listening while literacy skills are embedded in the rest of the curriculum.
By the time they leave the school, 74 per cent of pupils have reached the expected level 4 and 35 per cent get the higher level 5, which is above the national average.
When inspectors from the Office for Standards in Education visited the school in December 2003, they found parents were pleased with the leadership style of Graham Jameson, the headteacher. They were impressed by the creative teaching and by the sense of community.
Mr Jameson said: "You have to make the school as accessible as possible for everybody. We made sure the school handbook has everybody's language on the front cover and make parents feel welcome."
One of his first tasks when he joined the school as head two years ago, was to knock down the walls of three rooms to create a school hall large enough for everyone. Each week pupils, parents or visitors give a presentation to the school.
Mr Jameson said: "Children as young as five speak in front of 400 children.
Once we had a microphone for them to use but now they have learned to speak up."
Rae Stewart, 11, recently led an assembly. She said: "My friend Meg Evans and I spent playtimes writing a play about the suffragettes. We dressed up as Edwardian women in purple skirts with green and white tops."
This year's English national test for 11-year-olds was to write a presentation for assembly: a cinch for most of the pupils.
But Mr Jameson was not impressed. He said: "My concern is that what they are being asked to do during Sats is so boring and mechanical. The test results show children's ability to manipulate language in a limited amount of time. It is a skill, it is even a useful skill, but to what extent it is about literacy I am not sure."
Rae is looking forward to secondary school in September, but can think of two things she will miss about Edmund Waller primary: "I'll miss my friends and I'll miss Mr Jameson because he has come and done all these amazing things and I was only here from Year 4 to Year 6 to experience it."