Communication skills such as how to speak publicly, debate, question and argue should be taught to primary school children as part of the National Curriculum, according to research carried out by leading academics.
The study, co-sponsored by the University of Bedfordshire and the English-Speaking Union, found that those primary school children given more opportunities to develop verbal and oral communication skills gain in self-confidence and do better than other children in school subjects and National Curriculum assessments.
The Primary School Oral Communication Project was carried out over three years and involved more than a thousand children and their teachers, across twelve Bedfordshire primary schools. The project was based on a framework developed by the ESU’s world-leading Speech & Debate team, who have led thousands of training sessions delivered in schools and universities worldwide since 1996.
Those taught how to use persuasive speech, and who were placed in situations requiring them to make spontaneous responses, and to argue, question, debate and speak publicly, scored considerably higher in nationally standardised tests than the others – equivalent to extra gains of several months.
Project Director Dr Tony Wood, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bedfordshire and ESU Governor said: “Most people would accept that an ability to use language effectively and be confident and competent in dialogue with others can be a great asset in life.
“What this research has shown, for the first time, is that helping children develop these skills will also result in improved school performance and progress – undoubtedly a win-win situation for both pupils and teachers.”
Stephen Roberts, Director of Charitable Activities at the ESU commented: “The ESU works with thousands of young people across the world each year, engaging them in a wide range of public speaking, debating and cultural programmes. The results of this research provide quantifiable evidence that directly accords with our own experiences – that the skills of speaking listening and response are vital to education at all levels.
“The ESU asks that the Secretary of State for Education takes note of this compelling new evidence in light of the proposed curriculum changes which could remove these vital skills from the curriculum for students of all ages.”
Sets of new materials were developed to extend pupils’ oral communication skills by placing them in situations requiring an educationally mature level of verbal exchange with other children of the same age, boosting their self-confidence and their command and understanding of English.
The research also revealed that in all four areas assessed, the children involved in the project on average increased their Key Stage 2 National Curriculum scores over the period by between 6% and 19% more than those who were not involved.
Whilst the improvements were widely spread, they were particularly high for children of lesser ability, pupils for whom English is a second or additional language, and boys.
The results have been forwarded to the Secretary of State as part of the consultation on the proposed new National Curriculum, with the recommendation that consideration should be given to strengthening the role of speaking and listening in the development of language and literacy skills with primary children.
Further information on the project can be found in the Project Outcome Summary, which can be downloaded.