Many of our Year 13 students have recently benefited from practice for forthcoming interviews: Multiple Mini Interviews (MMIs) for medicine, with a range of medical professionals; and Oxbridge interviews, via an exchange process with other independent schools. These have all occurred remotely but have nevertheless demanded significant oral confidence. Others in Year 13 presented their Extended Projects a fortnight ago and spoke fluently about the topics they had researched, from satellites to farming to prison reform to cryptocurrency to regicide. I am pleased that pupils continue to attend Debating Society, albeit in their year group bubbles, pitting their wits against each other in lively discussion. Elsewhere, three of our Year 8 pupils competed in the Routes into Languages French Spelling Bee Competition Regional Final via video link, taking the first three places in that competition; 18 distinctions and 2 merits were gained in recent LAMDA exams; and pupils are busy preparing pieces for our remote drama production, ‘Verbatim’.
I understand that assistants in Clarks shoe shops are trained to talk with children as they measure their feet, in such a way as to improve their vocabulary and to help them acquire language skills. The National Literacy Trust estimates that 7.1 million adults have very poor literacy skills and suggests that children with poor vocabulary at the age of five are more than twice as likely to be unemployed at age 34 than their more articulate peers. Amidst concerns over declining literacy skills as a result of lockdown, some businesses have been joining together to discuss ways to help parents support their children’s early learning at home.
Oracy, or the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech, is a vital skill which has a powerful impact on so many aspects of our children’s education. Its link with literacy, or the ability to read and write, is obvious – as you cannot articulate your ideas clearly and confidently unless you have acquired the vocabulary, the expressions and the structures to do so. We are fortunate that English is an immensely rich language, and we want our pupils to leave school knowing how to manipulate and enjoy that language as appropriate to different situations and diverse audiences.
We should encourage our children to express themselves clearly, whether at home or in classroom discussion; for some, this requires stepping out of their comfort zone to develop their confidence. It also means knowing how to alter language register or degrees of formality according to the audience and avoiding the sloppy English which is prevalent in social media! Alongside the joy of reading (such an important ‘gift’ when other pastimes are more limited) there are numerous opportunities for pupils to organise their ideas, fire their imaginations and articulate their opinions and feelings.
Our children are no doubt skilled in the art of debate at the dinner table! May they also grow up to love reading and with the confidence and ability to speak out and to speak well!
Headmaster and Principal