APPGs on Oracy and Speech & Language Difficulties say a much greater focus on children’s language and communication is needed in schools
In response to the Government’s schools white paper, the APPGs on Oracy and Speech and Language Difficulties are renewing their joint call for a much greater emphasis on developing children’s spoken language and communication in schools. It is only in doing so that the Government will be able to achieve their ambitious literacy and numeracy targets, and enable every child to fulfil their potential. Spoken language underpins literacy development and vocabulary acquisition, and purposeful classroom talk enhances learning across the curriculum, including in maths.
We welcome the Government’s recognition of the critical role of early language development in building strong foundations for literacy and numeracy, but the newly published Schools White paper is missing a crucial opportunity to support the ongoing development of children’s spoken language. This will not organically happen without a sustained effort. Only through purposeful and intentional teaching throughout their school years will children benefit from the academic gains of oracy, and leave school with the communication skills needed for all walks of life. Evidence from the Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group has shown that many schools are not meeting minimum requirements for teaching the spoken language elements set out in the national curriculum.
We are pleased that the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) will continue to be supported and welcome the Government’s approach to place “evidence at the heart of the education system.” The EEF evidence on oracy is clear. Approaches that emphasise the importance of spoken language and verbal interaction in the classroom are some of the most impactful, for a very low cost, resulting in six months’ additional progress over a year. In comparison, the White Paper highlights the £1 billion investment in tuition and quotes EEF evidence that “small group tuition has an average impact of an additional four months in primary and two months in secondary”. Extending the school day is deemed to enable students to make three months additional progress and is most costly.
Having a significant focus on oracy in every classroom is most vital for children growing up in areas of disadvantage who are already behind in their speech and language when they start school. We know that the pandemic has widened the attainment gap, and it has also impacted negatively on the ‘word gap’. At the end of lockdown, two thirds of primary teachers across all ages and nearly half of secondary teachers said school closures had a negative effect on the spoken language development of students eligible for pupil premium, compared with 1 in 5 teachers for their most advantaged pupils. Other estimates show that 1.5 million children are at risk of not developing the spoken language skills they need. Children with identified speech and language difficulties have also been impacted, with 81% receiving less speech and language therapy during lockdown. We are yet to see any significant, long-term measures to support children of all ages – not only to ‘catch-up’ on their spoken language, but to capitalise on the power of oracy to enhance children’s overall academic success.
Our APPGs recently met with the Minister for Schools to call for more recognition of the role of oracy in improving and developing children’s literacy and numeracy. Robin Walker acknowledged that spoken language is fundamental to learning and to meeting targets in literacy and numeracy. He committed to exploring how DfE efforts to improve literacy appropriately emphasise the importance of spoken language in children’s education.
In order for the Government to achieve the aspirations set out in the schools white paper, further measures are needed which include:
- Ensuring schools are better supported through high-quality guidance, training, and resources in order to meet overarching requirements on spoken language set out on the National Curriculum. We welcomed the 2021 Reading Framework for Reception and Year 1 which emphasised the fundamental importance of oracy in ensuring all children become confident and proficient readers. The next Reading Framework due in 2023 for Year 2 through to secondary school must maintain and develop this emphasis.
- Extending the remit of the English Hubs beyond Reception and Year 1 to include the entire primary phase and with oracy as a key support area alongside early language, phonics and reading.
- Encouraging Education Investment Areas to make developing children’s spoken language and communication a strategic priority.
- Better targeting of catch-up support towards speech and language development, and ensuring guidance for schools on how to spend the pupil premium emphasises the need for measures to support children with SLCN and those who are behind in age-related expectations. ‘
Furthermore, support for language and communication should be embedded throughout children’s education, including:
- training and development opportunities for teachers
- the work of the new arms-length curriculum body
- monitoring pupils’ progress
- provision of tutoring
- behaviour and wellbeing
We will also look to the proposals in the SEND Review, which we hope will ensure that children with persistent spoken language and communication difficulties can access the support they and their teachers need so they can achieve their educational potential.
The schools white paper provides a once in a generation opportunity to close the attainment gap and reverse the damaging effects of school closures. We are at a precipice in children’s education to recover lost learning and level the playing field for all children within their education and future opportunities. Putting children’s language and communication at the heart of this has never been more important and our APPGs and expert advisors look forward to working with the Government in order to achieve this.