The Value of Speaking and Listening

The deadline for the consultation on the review of the Key Stage 4 curriculum is approaching and we’d like to encourage everyone to participate. Even though it may be a futile act, in so far as it appears Mr Gove has already made his mind up about the content and the examination process for the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBC), it’s important for all those interested in education to have their say, so that it goes on record that there was opposition to the proposals.

Click here to go to the Department of Education:

Please note, even for the computer literate, it’s quite difficult to locate this document through a Google search unless you get the wording absolutely right (i.e. Key Stage 4 Review). One wonders whether the government actually wants feedback.

Speaking is important. Having your say is vital, and not just in relation to education legislation. Our children need to learn how to speak, when to speak and indeed when not to speak. Children need to learn how to be silent and how to listen effectively. In order for effective communication to take place, the art of focused listening is as important as the ability to speak.

In the current GCSE for English, speaking and listening constitutes 20% of the final examination. Within this, young people must demonstrate their ability to present, discuss, listen and role play. We wait with anticipation to see whether these elements are going to be retained in any new examination that Mr Gove and his department suggest as an alternative to the GCSE. With his insistence on exams rather than continual assessment, it seems unlikely.

However, we still need to address the issue of quality teaching in developing students’ speaking and listening.

Student speaking at Central Foundation Boys School, Islington

In the KS4 review document above, the department says that is has “already taken steps” to discourage teaching to the test, yet we all know that this happens – in all key stages. In supporting children learning the skills of speaking and listening we need to make sure that this is something that every teacher in every lesson is developing, and not just the English teachers who are assessing these skills.

It’s interesting that the CBI in its “First Steps” report on the need to reform education specifically mentioned the fact that young people entering into the workforce don’t have these necessary language skills highly developed. So even though there has been a decade or so of ‘testing’ speaking and listening skills and grading students on their ability to practise them, it hasn’t translated into any improvement in their real lives.

Some schools attempt to improve these skills through contrived tasks such as role play, but how many students actually feel comfortable doing role play? Surely those that don’t like taking on characters in this way will be marked down, not because of their inability to speak and listen but because they just don’t like role play?

The answer has to be that all teachers address speaking and listening as a key part of their work with young people. For instance, how many English teachers consult with their colleagues on how well young people are speaking and listening in other areas of the curriculum when they assign a grade to the individual child?

Speaking and Listening

In every area of school life, children and young people should be encouraged to converse, and should be extremely mindful of their ability to listen as well as speak. It’s not enough to just listen, or appear to listen, to what the teacher is saying. They need to learn the patience, respect and purpose of listening to the views of their peers too.

And here we have it – we are back to the fundamental issue of values within a school. Schools, and the people within them, must be committed to the value of speaking and listening and must equally be committed to the values that arise from these core skills, like respect and empathy. One cannot speak and listen effectively without valuing others and also the views of those that you are in conversation with.

This is why we should be looking at skills like speaking and listening in a holistic way. Their ‘value’ shouldn’t be coming from their 20% mark in an English examination. Their value should be coming from their significance in the development of the whole child, and the fact that within these skills are the values that enable our social and personal intelligences to flourish.

It seems to us that it’s impossible to create a true and lasting environment for learning without an agreed set of values. It’s quite obvious that you can’t teach a subject effectively, and that children can’t learn optimally, unless they have the ability to read and write. It’s also apparent that effective learning involves students sharing their thoughts and listening  to the ideas of others. We should also understand that other core skills, such as respecting, understanding and appreciating others, are developed through speaking and listening.

These skills and values are part of a child’s personal and social development. PSD outcomes, therefore, are an integral part of our learning. Developing and encouraging key personal and social skills are part of every lesson by the very nature of there being a diverse group of young people talking and learning together. Children are learning how to live and work with people all the time.

Children learning together

In valuing speaking and listening skills, we are also valuing the art of communication. We are valuing empathy. We are valuing respect. We are shaping our own values and our own beliefs through listening to others and hearing what they have to say, whether we agree with them or not.

What we now need to do is ensure that the Personal and Social Development outcomes in every lesson are explicit, not just implicit. We need to make sure that every teacher and every pupil is aware that the development of attitudes, values and core skills of PSD are as much a part of every lesson as reading and writing is.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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1 Response to The Value of Speaking and Listening

  1. johncoyote says:

    Listening is a very important skill. You must show concern and the speaker must believe you care. I like my Grandfather wisdom. “Think before you speak. Words can create the vision of how someone looked and respect you. ” Good information in the blog.


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