Review by Rob Gasson

CEO, Wave Multi Academy Trust

15 Jun 2024, 5:00

Blog

The Conversation – with Rob Gasson

The roots of oracy

With nothing about education particularly in the press at the moment (and why would there be?), it seemed a good time to listen in to this ‘Commission Conversation’.

Geoff Barton is chair of the commission on the future of oracy education in England. Here, he talks to Ian Cushing about the deficit foundations of oracy education. A topic Cushing has written about in these pages before, he explains why a focus on improving children’s ‘oracy skills’ draws attention away from wider structural inequalities and also refers to his research on the listening practices of Ofsted.

Cushing sets the discussion in the context of a dominant culture of working class deficit, with reference to oracy schemes that state slang is not to be used, arguing that the ideology underpinning much of oracy’s origins is tantamount to victim blaming rather than looking at where issues really originate.

Barton expertly enables this discussion to encompass Ofsted, teaching today and feedback and brings the implications of deficit thinking bang up to date, with evidence that the inspectorate punish schools for the presence of non-standardised language use by staff or pupils. Cushing also challenges Sir Keir Starmer’s language around the need for oracy in schools.

It’s a fantastic look back on oracy’s questionable origins as an educational idea that offers many parallels to other ‘interventions’ for marginalised groups, and eye-opening in terms of its ongoing impact on how schools today are judged.

As a listening exercise from the commission on oracy, it’s certainly more open to genuine critique that Ofsted’s recent efforts – and that is encouraging.

A not-so-golden thread

Whoever is sitting in Sanctuary Buildings on 5 July, teacher recruitment and retention will have to be a top priority. This timely thread of posts on X from the NFER’s Jack Worth is an excellent run-through on the scale of the problem.

A slight fall in teacher leaving rates is about the only positive statistic shared here, with unfilled vacancies and temp-filled posts at record highs and the lowest number of newly-qualified entrants since 2010 (by a long way).

Political solutions are few. Labour tell us they will recruit 6,500 new teachers, but the demand is much higher than that, it isn’t clear where they got the number from, and we don’t yet know how they’ll do it.

We can only hope.

Trip? Take a hike

Summer is inevitably the time of year that throws up issues around, trips, visits and ‘treats’. It’s also high season for all-out social media warfare, and the combination has resulted in a week-long dispute about entitlement.

A particularly heart-rending account from foster parent Gareth Thomas about ‘Sam’ in Year 9  who wasn’t allowed to go on a school trip led to the inevitable pile on.

The comments showed that Sam is far from alone in his experience, and among the more reasonable takes was this one from educational visit coordinator, Mark Shepstone.

Sadly, (many) others were not as nuanced, taking defensive and frankly dismissive positions  about their practices (especially around exclusions). Eventually, Gareth Thomas came to the same conclusion.

James Durran offered what I felt was the definitive take.

I’m not certain it’s ‘classic eduTwitter’ though. I do remember a time when discourse was more constructive and a little more civil.

So I am looking forward to education becoming a theme of the current election – and post-election for it to be an essential element of how the country will improve.

I hope people in the sector take the opportunity of a new government to adopt a new inclusive approach that values equally those who work with the most vulnerable, in and out of schools.

And I hope social media returns to a more positive experience of collaboratively working towards that end, even when we disagree.

As he has so often done, Geoff Barton shows what’s possible when we really listen. More of that, please.

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