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High quality reviews and training

Roy Blatchford's Column

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com
Vox populi: a blueprint for oracy

In 1975, The Bullock Report - A Language for Life was a landmark publication for schools. It asserted the importance of language across the curriculum, and the need for all teachers to harness in classrooms the four key skills of speaking, listening, reading and writing. Oral language was given a particular emphasis.

Nearly fifty years on, and classrooms in the UK still do not give routine attention to how children's and students' oral skills are joyfully and rigorously promoted.

In a world in which English is the lingua franca, ironically it is left to other countries to make the English language sing: visit any school or college from Brazil to Italy to Vietnam to watch the 'fun and fundamentals' of English being taught to ensure their children can operate happily in global English.

The launch in March of the Oracy Education Commission, chaired by Geoff Barton (ASCL's outgoing General Secretary), is a special opportunity to champion oracy in the UK. The Commission has set itself two properly ambitious goals:
  1. to outline an evidence-based framework for oracy education
  2. to make recommendations for the implementation of a national entitlement to oracy education for all children.
Looking back to the Bullock report (and I remember as a young teacher its fanfare and press coverage), it is one thing to make recommendations - it is quite another to change teachers' familiar practices. And this word 'oracy' itself will need a bit of selling; teachers need to know Why?

First, the framework: the commissioners drawn from all corners of education, academia, the arts, health and business will have little trouble in securing a bundle of evidence. Voice 21's established national work and benchmarks are a fair starting point, alongside Speech & Language UK's strategies for the 1.9 million children struggling with talking and understanding words.

At the heart of the Commission's focus on a framework - especially one with the spoken word at its heart - will be their wrestle over the so-called Macnamara Fallacy. It runs as follows: The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide.

Second, the recommendations: like it or not, our system of high profile accountability, testing and inspection determines practice. Unless examination boards, the DfE and Ofsted act sympathetically in concert, any recommendations will escape implementation.

To take one example: assuming Ofsted remains in some guise, a future inspection framework would need to include a paragraph on oracy across the curriculum. Inspectors' current paragraph on reading which features in every published report has unquestionably raised the profile of the joys and struggles of reading, especially in secondary schools.

The last Labour government created and delivered the National Strategies, so watch this space. Assuming one of the purposes of the Commission is to influence the new government's Secretary of State for Education and shape policy from 2025 onwards (half a century after Bullock), here's my top seven for inclusion:

An oracy manifesto
  1. A Year of Oracy in 2026 (an echo of the Year of Reading in 1998).

  2. Top quality ESOL and EAL courses provided for all primary and secondary teachers, and those courses woven into initial training: to teach how the English language actually works for native and non-native speakers. We speak, then learn the grammar.

  3. In every classroom: 'Think what you are going to say next' to be written above every teacher's whiteboard, thus presuming children will:
    • build on one another's answers
    • stand up in class when they speak
    • speak with their eyes
    • speak in full phrases and sentences
    • project their voices so that all their peers can hear
    • listen with intent, and respond articulately and thoughtfully.

    And teachers will:
    • ask for one student to build on another student's response, and another, and another, before giving their view
    • not accept monosyllabic answers from their students (unless it's a 'eureka' moment)
    • not interrupt children when they are half way through a sentence to say 'good' or 'right'
    • build meaningful oral assessments into every term's planning.
    (entrenched teachers' practices have to change: 'old dogs' will need to unlearn their 'old tricks').

  4. A 3-18 framework rooted in the magic quartet of oracy, vocabulary, reading, and cultural capital; each must feature as humans think, talk, read and write - in that order - to make sense of their worlds.

  5. A national all-through testing and examination system which includes 25% oral assessment, 25% written paper, 25% on-line, and 25% portfolios (podcast/ film/ AI generated 'text').

  6. An inspection framework which captures demonstrably high quality oracy as an integral aspect of personal and character development.

  7. And, a curriculum entitlement to singing, for all young people in our schools.
In countless classrooms I watch students of all ages barely opening their mouths; too often they mutter. Offer them the opportunity to sing and rap, and their spirits and voices are awoken.

In 'Hard Rain', one of the great protest songs of the 1960s - and in the best oral tradition - Bob Dylan sang:

Then I'll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin'
But I'll know my song well before I start singin'


I trust once this oracy blueprint is written, it will be available on a podcast - and sung too.


Roy Blatchford's latest publication is The A - Z of Great Classrooms, published by John Catt.

Vox populi: a blueprint for oracy (April 2024)

Roy Blatchford
Contact: royb88@gmail.com


Virtue, compassion, altruism
Half of global adults will vote in 2024 - Taiwan, Pakistan and Iran were among the first out of the blocks - but democracy is not just about elections. What do people in any society wish for themselves, their families and their fellow citizens?
Virtue, compassion, altruism (March 2024)

The joys of teaching
Being in classrooms during January and meeting with teachers and leaders in schools, seminars and conferences, one is left in no doubt of the considerable challenges in classrooms and corridors.
The joys of teaching (February 2024)

The Long March
Writing last year in The Times, social commentator Matthew Syed cannily captured in this one sentence the 'long march' challenge for western democracies.
The Long March (January 2024)

Centennials
It was US President Harry S. Truman who asserted: 'Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers'.
Centennials (December 2023)

Shortage of Science
As the national enquiry into what happened in government during the Covid period unfolds, I reprint a letter published in the Oxford Times in April 2020.
Shortage of Science (November 2023)

Taylor Swift: my English teacher
Sitting at a table in Florence's teeming Piazza Santo Spirito during the summer, we got chatting to an Italian waitress. She told us she was 25 and had never been to England or the US. She spoke exquisite English - not American - as fluently as the average Dutch taxi-driver.
Taylor Swift: my English teacher (October 2023)

Blink: life goes faster than you think
It is often quipped that if hospitals had changed at the same rate as schools, doctors would still be using leeches. That may be a little unfair on education. Yet reading recently the words of HMI in a school log-book from 1907 - set down in the headmistress's immaculate copperplate script - reminded me of the current flurries around pupil attendance.
Blink: life goes faster than you think (September 2023)

The Age of Unreason
Writers about the future hope that what they have to say will resonate years later. In Handy's case, his words seem remarkably like a blueprint for the 2020s.
The Age of Unreason (August 2023)

The marooned profession
As we head towards the summer holidays - and potentially a period of extended disruption in schools - it is worth asking how long teaching as a profession can afford to remain marooned.
The marooned profession (July 2023)

Postcard from Amman
The Royal Wedding in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, a joyfully strategic alliance between the Crown Prince and his Saudi bride. Traffic is even more frenetic than usual - pedestrian and bike friendly this capital is not. Road closures around the wedding route intensify the taxis' horns.
Postcard from Amman (June 2023)

The A-Z of Great Classrooms
Q for Questions
Pushed to identify a singular feature of great classrooms, the posing of great questions might well come top of my list. It is not just the questions themselves, but the style in which they are posed and how students' responses are managed and built upon. What accomplished teachers do with the answers they receive is fascinating to observe.
The A-Z of Great Classrooms (May 2023)

Ruth Perry RIP. Safeguarding is too important to be left to Ofsted
We rightly check annually that our kitchens serve healthy food (including notices of allergens); we ensure year-on-year checks of science, technology and gym equipment - but our children's safeguarding we approach more casually.
Safeguarding is too important to be left to Ofsted (April 2022)

Long Covid in schools
Google 'symptoms of long Covid' and the NHS website lists fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell and muscle aches as the most common. There follows a lengthy secondary list including chest pain, dizziness, depression, and tinnitus.
Long Covid in schools (March 2023)

School improvement: the impossible dream?
Through the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s I was reviewing on average a couple of books a week for the Times Educational Supplement, initially delivering copy to Fleet Street by hand on my way to school. Murdoch's infamous move to Wapping meant I had to meet an earlier deadline in order to post in the reviews.
School improvement: the impossible dream? (February 2023)

Dear Keir Starmer
In my January 2022 column speculating on the year ahead, I predicted the downfall of Boris Johnson, and set out some key themes in education which I considered should be addressed afresh: funding, accountability, academisation, the teaching profession
Dear Keir Starmer (January 2023)

Revolving doors
A review of 'If I were Education Secretary', edited by Geoff Barton
Sit in the waiting room of Sanctuary Buildings, the home of the DfE, and lift your gaze to the individual photographs of all 44 Secretaries of State for Education to have served in that office since 1944.
Revolving doors (December 2022)

Academic-vocational apartheid
It is fifteen years ago that the National Education Trust published in its Counterblasts series my pamphlet 'Academic - Vocational Apartheid'. Much of the text had its origins in a speech I drafted a couple of years earlier for the then HMCI Sir David Bell.
Academic-vocational apartheid (November 2022)

A raid on the inarticulate
T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets testifies that success in language is a partial business, 'a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate', at best a muddled string of attempts to define and redefine the nature of one's being, to rationalise its presence in society.
A raid on the inarticulate (October 2022)

Restless for Excellence
Leaders in education never cease to amaze me.
Over the past two in-service training weeks I have worked with local authority directors, trust CEOs and headteachers. This has been in-person in the UK, and 'virtually' abroad - we have something distinctive to learn from the depth and breadth of induction in international schools.
Restless for Excellence (September 2022)

August is a wicked month
'Channel Tunnel delays - French to blame'. 'Vardy versus Rooney'. 'Savaged by a seagull'.
Headlines tell us it must be August.
August is a wicked month (August 2022)

Cover
Malcolm McLean was a truck driver who spent his life delivering bales of cotton to ports in North Carolina. Unable to leave until his cargo was safely loaded, for years he wasted hours watching dozens of dockhands load thousands of small packages on to ships.
Cover (July 2022)

Trust
The recent White Paper's ambition that this decade will deliver a trust-led education system far removed from the 1944 Education Act's original vision of schooling in this country has set me pondering on the word 'trust'.
This five letter word has its origins in the Old Norse traust: safe abode, confidence, security. The Vikings brought the word to England in the 800s. We have been playing with it ever since.
Trust (June 2022)

The importance of a strong community and the value of caring
As UK students enter the month of May there is the resumption of the familiar routine of exam preparation and entry into invigilated exam conditions - a reset 'normal' after the haitus of the past two summers.
The importance of a strong community and the value of caring (May 2022)

Safeguarding is too important to be left to Ofsted
We have an orthodoxy that needs challenging.
It says something about our education system - and maybe our society - when we insist that a financial audit is an annual requirement, yet our check on children is left to a passing inspectorate, perhaps every seven to ten years.
Safeguarding is too important to be left to Ofsted (April 2022)

Now the masks are off, let every voice be heard
If you read no further than the end of this sentence, please watch the YouTube video Frank Cottrell-Boyce supporting the Essex Year of Reading - Essex County Council.

Now the masks are off, let every voice be heard (March 2022)

Must do better: how to improve the image of teaching and why it matters
Roy Blatchford & Harry Hudson
This is an extract from 'Must do better', just published by John Catt.

The Covid pandemic has been a severe and often deathly whiplash across the world. And now that the pandemic has become endemic, there is an emerging perspective focused on what the pandemic has taught the world.

'Must Do Better' Launch

Must do better: how to improve the image of teaching and why it matters (February 2022)

A speculative new year
A landslide victory for the opposition parties beckons in 2022 or 2023. Boris Johnson's great hero Winston Churchill experienced similar in 1945, and I have long thought that our PM would follow in those fated footsteps.
A speculative new year (January 2022)

Reaching The Unseen Children
I am deliberately borrowing my title from Jean Gross - December guest column
The book's sub-title is clunkier but is absolutely where the text is focused: practical strategies for closing stubborn attainment gaps in disadvantaged groups.
Reaching The Unseen Children (December 2021)

Teacher and leader as conductor
The Dutch conductor Bernard Haitink (1929 - 2021) died recently after a career spanning 65 years at the highest levels of music making.
Teacher and leader as conductor (November 2021)

Why this generation in our schools must take a world view
A well travelled New Zealand teacher I met in Singapore noted that only the British talk about going out to work somewhere, as though implied in the phrase is that the coloniser will then return to Blighty. And a teacher from Buenos Aires observed that the Brits have a peculiar habit of referring to the Far East, even when they are working in it.
Why this generation in our schools must take a world view (October 2021)

Start of September term 1963
Sifting this summer through family archives, my mother gave me this typed letter, written by the City of Bath Director of Education on 31st May 1963:
Dear Sir or Madam,
Allocation of pupils to secondary schools in September 1963
Exam No. 707   Name Blatchford Roy
Start of September term 1963 (September 2021)

Finishers, Abandoners and Dippers
Novelist Nilanjana Roy asks the question: 'Should you always finish a book?' She answers by asserting that there are broadly two kinds of readers - Finishers and Abandoners - and that they are baffled by each other's reading habits.
Finishers, Abandoners and Dippers (August 2021)
Book Shelf 2021

High Performance Learning
When 'Room at the Top' was published in 2011, its sub-title 'inclusive education for high performance' ran counter to many prevailing orthodoxies. And this was a few years before British Ministers set off for the Far East to return with tales of mastery.
High Performance Learning (July 2021)

The globally confident school
One of the paradoxes at the heart of many international schools is that they are simultaneously inward and outward facing. A typical international school - say in Switzerland, Qatar or Bangkok - has students from all parts of the globe who (in normal times) commute in and out of the schools every term.
The globally confident school (June 2021)

Obstetrics for Schools
'A guide to eliminating failure and ensuring the safe delivery of all learners' runs the beguiling sub-title of this compelling book. Let's set this proper ambition for all learners first, in an international context, and second, within a UK perspective.
Obstetrics for Schools (May 2021)

Inner and outer tears
Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, was at the epicentre of the 2008 financial crash. He reflected recently on the global banking system's response, concluding that all the lessons of crisis management were applied. Humility. Responsibility. Resilience. Solidarity.
Inner and outer tears (April 2021)

Chronos and kairos
The ancient Greeks had two understandings of time, chronos and kairos. Both are important, but the latter rarely gets the attention it warrants. It deserves to now.
Chronos and kairos (March 2021)

Examinations at 16+ require incremental and radical change
In 1960, in a divided system, 20% of young people went to grammar school. The rest were more or less written off in terms of examination success. In fact only 16% of sixteen year-olds achieved five O-level passes.
Examinations at 16+ require incremental and radical change (February 2021)

Reading: the golden key
Reading is the golden key to accessing the school curriculum and a lifetime's opportunities.
Yet in our wealthy nation, with its long history of free education, we still have one in four of our 11 year-olds not meeting expected national standards in reading - and a similar percentage not achieving a grade 4 in English GCSE.
Reading: the golden key (January 2021)

Accelerating the arches
I opened my January 2020 monthly column with these words:
'A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.'
In common with most futurologists, I was correct and incorrect in equal measure. While 2020 has certainly been unpredictable, a pandemic is not something most of us had thought about before. The 2011 movie 'Contagion' was possibly the closest we had come to viewing a life-changing global plague.
Accelerating the arches (December 2020)

Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue
The August roller coaster of students' emotions, not to mention those of their families and teachers, upon receipt of GCSE and A level results, is an annual reminder that the present systems are faltering.
Bound in shallows and in miseries: reform of the route to higher education is now long overdue (November 2020)

Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too
When our environment changes we must adapt to survive. Across private, public and not-for-profit sectors, boards and executives are busy rethinking.
  • What do we keep?
  • What do we ditch?
  • What do we refresh?
Darwinism for modern times: regulators must adapt too (November 2020)

The habit of collaboration
David Laws in government put down a marker from a Ministerial perspective about the absence in practice of a developed school system.
Secondary headteachers in East Sussex have been practising the school-led system for a while now. Through trial, error, resilience - and a deep commitment to the values of working together - they have established a pioneering and proven model which others might wish to learn from. The habit of collaboration is real.
The habit of collaboration (October 2020)

There is much promise in classrooms
It's the stuff of popular magazines. Interview a famous person about their childhood influences, their treasured moments and possessions, their faith, their biggest extravagance, who and what they find most irritating.
There is much promise in classrooms (September 2020)

The Pygmalion effect
In a recorded end-of-term message to her colleagues one headteacher spoke powerfully: 'Let not Covid-19 define the past academic year. So much else has been achieved in our school'.
The Pygmalion effect (August 2020)

Resetting the dial: focus on the gains
A quote from Lenin which was circulating in the early weeks of the lockdown - 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen' - seems as apposite now as it was in late March.
Resetting the dial: focus on the gains (July 2020)

School's in - but not as we know it
In Ray Bradbury's sci-fi story A Sound of Thunder, set in 2055, the character Eckels travels back in time. He is instructed firmly by the trip organisers Time Safari Inc. to stay on the levitated path and touch nothing. Inadvertently he steps off the path and crushes a butterfly. Returning to the present, the world has changed.
School's in - but not as we know it (June 2020)

Will dinner duty ever be the same again?
As an impecunious supply teacher in a 1970s London comprehensive I learned from my first Head of English that if I accompanied him on lunch duty, I could get a free meal. Previously in publishing, I had been told that there was no such thing as a free lunch.
I never looked back.
Will dinner duty ever be the same again? (May 2020)

Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE)
The UK's political leaders who have nervously addressed the nation from the Downing Street podium over the past weeks took degrees as follows: Johnson (classics), Raab (law), Patel (economics), Sharma (physics), Hancock (PPE - sic), Jenrick (history). Rishi Sunak (PPE) has been singularly confident.
Philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) (19 April 2020)

Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC)
There was a time Before Coronavirus (BC), though it already seems months ago. Lenin got it right when he said: 'There are decades where nothing happens, and weeks where decades happen'.
Before Coronavirus (BC).... After Coronavirus (AC) (April 2020)

The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101
I taught in a central London comprehensive in the 1980s at the height of the IRA's bombing campaigns. The distinguished headteacher told me years later after she had retired that during those years she received by phone daily bomb threats.
The Three Minute Leader: ROOM 101 (March 2020)

Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons
The word 'robot' comes from a Czech word robota meaning 'forced labour'. It was first used to denote a fictional humanoid in a 1920 play. By the 1940s Isaac Asimov started popularizing robots and intelligent machines in his great science fiction short stories.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) beckons (February 2020)

A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism
A new, predictably unpredictable decade begins. The German poet Goethe wryly observed that everything has been thought of before - the challenge is to think of it again.
A New Year's resolution for leaders: prevailing scepticism (January 2020)

PISA in purdah
With politicians on doorsteps and civil servants in purdah, this month's publication of PISA results has not been accompanied by the usual idle chatter around rising and falling standards.
OECD's PISA tests have been running since 2000. They measure the ability of 15 year-olds to apply their skills and knowledge to real life problem-solving in reading, maths and science.
PISA in purdah (December 2019)

It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it
According to new research from Yale University, when we hear someone speak we form near-instantaneous conclusions about their social class. It takes just seven random words they claim.
The Professional Speechwriters' Association suggests that content only accounts for 11 per cent of our impact when we talk. Passion, expertise, voice and presence are all twice as important in making a first impression.
It's not what you say, it's the way that you say it (November 2019)

Why independent schools enjoy being independent
The Labour Conference votes to abolish independent schools. Social media have come up with witty suggestions about what to do with the great estates of Stowe, Eton, Wellington and Winchester once they are requisitioned.
Anyone who has attended the annual Festival of Education at Wellington College will know what I mean.
So as minds turn to thinking the unthinkable, let's pause to reflect on why the independent sector rightly values its independence.
Why independent schools enjoy being independent (October 2019)

The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification
It is a remarkable statistic in the home of the English language, and in one of the world's top economies, that one third of 16 year-olds, after 12 years of compulsory schooling, fail to achieve what the Department for Education describes as a 'standard pass' (grade 4) in GCSE English and maths.
This was the starting point for the independent Commission on 'The Forgotten Third' which was established by the Association of School and College Leaders...
The 'Forgotten Third' deserve the dignity of a new type of qualification (September 2019)
The Forgotten Third: Final report of the Commission of Inquiry

Reading for the summer recess
Radical Candour Kim Scott, Machines Like Me Ian McEwan, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic Simon Armitage, Average Is Over Tyler Cowen, India Connected Ravi Agrawal and Why We Dream Alice Robb.
Reading for the summer recess (August 2019)

End of academic year reflection (July 2019)
This past year I have visited nearly 50 schools in the UK and overseas. Sometimes it has been as a reviewer (Blink), sometimes as a leadership coach, sometimes to work with students and teachers, sometimes to listen to headteachers' views on a range of educational matters.
End of academic year reflection (July 2019)

Eight Leadership Maxims
With acknowledgements to the headteachers and principals across the UK and overseas I have worked with this academic year.
Eight Leadership Maxims (June 2019)

It's the curriculum, stupid!
Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign slogan memorably read 'It's the economy, stupid'. His lead strategist James Carville hung a sign with these words in the Little Rock campaign headquarters: what was intended for an internal audience rapidly became the election signature tune.
In the contemporary schools landscape, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has hung up the sign: 'It's the curriculum, stupid'.
It's the curriculum, stupid! (May 2019)

Postcard from Shanghai
Away from its gridlocked, elevated highways the largest city in the world works. Shanghai: a modern, socialist, international metropolis.
Contrast frenetic New York, chaotic Mumbai, the bedlam of Cairo - Shanghai hums with purpose. Twenty-six million souls occupy countless high-rise towers cheek by jowl with the stylish housing and municipal legacies of the French, British and American Concessions. The Huang Pu river bends through the downtown like a proverbial dragon's tongue.
Postcard from Shanghai (April 2019)

The Forgotten Third
Each year in England over half a million 16-year-olds take their GCSEs. A third of these students do not achieve at least a standard pass (grade 4) in English and mathematics.
Why is it that a third of 16-year-olds, after twelve years of compulsory schooling, cannot read or write English at what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as 'standard pass' level?
Why is there not proper recognition of the progress these young people have made as they move on to further education and employment?
The Forgotten Third (March 2019)

The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK
I encounter many senior politicians, top civil servants in education departments, principals of schools and colleges across the globe who have spent what they describe as memorable and enjoyable years in British universities.
The tarnished jewel of Higher Education, UK (February 2019)

A Happy New Year from Ofsted
Roy Blatchford drafts HMCI's New Year Message

An important tipping point in this country has now been reached. In 2018, approaching 90% of state-funded schools were judged good or better at their most recent inspection. That should be recognised as a fair achievement for the nation.
A Happy New Year from Ofsted (January 2019)
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