Education & Family

'Grunting' teens need school help, says head teacher

Harry Enfield as stroppy teenager Kevin
Image caption Harry Enfield's Kevin was not the most articulate teenager

Schools should do more to ensure teenagers are not "grunting and monosyllabic" so they can succeed in life, a former aide to Tony Blair says.

Peter Hyman, now a head teacher, told the TES it was a moral issue that young people be taught to speak eloquently.

He also criticised the government's decision to downgrade speaking and listening in GCSE English.

The government said it wanted all pupils to be able to speak in public, make presentations and debate.


It added that its English curriculum in primary and secondary schools places a far greater emphasis on the spoken word.

But changes to GCSE English means there are no longer any marks awarded in the final exam for speaking and listening.

Mr Hyman is a former speech-writer for Tony Blair who now runs School 21 - a free school in Newham, east London. He told the Times Educational Supplement that speaking and listening was an "undervalued area of literacy".

Instead, the spoken word should be "built into the DNA of the school", he said.

"Speaking eloquently is a moral issue because to find your voice both literally and metaphorically and be able to communicate your ideas and your passions is crucial to how they are going to be a success in the world," he said.

"If you can speak and articulate yourself properly that will happen.

"But it's also the number-one issue that employers put in all their surveys: they want good oral communication.

"We've got to dispel the myth of the grunting teenager, the monosyllabic teenager that make employers say, 'I've got this person who I know on paper is quite good, but they can't string a sentence together.'"


Despite its importance, Mr Hyman said the general trend was moving further away from encouraging pupils to develop their speaking and communication skills.

The Department for Education said in a statement: "The primary curriculum is clear that all teachers should develop their pupils' vocabulary and provide extra support where necessary. Speaking also plays a vital role in all other subjects, including maths and science.

"In addition, we have given all schools the freedom to set the length of the school day, with many already using these freedoms to run extra-curricular activities, such as debating competitions."

It added that in primary school, children were expected, to be able to listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers, ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge and articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions.

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