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The new National Curriculum - what it could mean for storytelling in schools

As some of you might have noticed, plans are in place to change the National Curriculum for schools in England in 2014, with draft programmes for next year already established and a consultation period which ended in April. Among the changes proposed and scheduled to go through are ones that could spell bad news for those who work in schools as storytellers, and cause dismay to anyone who values promotion of oral language skills amongst school-age children.

The new Curriculum for 2014 sees the removal of a spoken language strand from English, which may very well see storytellers in schools reduced or even abolished altogether. The University of Cambridge’s Robin Alexander has launched a spirited defence against the changes, defending the necessity of oral language skills in future life. As he notes in a paper submitted to the Department For Education in August 2012: “[C]hildren’s acquisition of the knowledge, understanding and skill that enable them to use spoken language with the fluency and flexibility necessary for learning, employment and life requires attention to talk in its own terms as well as in the contexts of reading and writing.”

Despite Alexander’s response, such concerns have apparently been dismissed by the government, with none other than former Minister Of State For Schools Nick Gibb remarking that programmes looking at speech and language “encourage idle chatter in the classroom”. Such a reductive view from an important government official suggests that they place very little importance on the benefits of language skills for children both now and in the future.

It also suggests that the need to increase and maintain literacy among pupils is becoming less of a focus, since working on oral language skills is, as storytelling professional and former English teacher Dr Nicola Grove states, “one of the most effective ways of improving literacy”. She continues: “Moreover, speech, language and communication... is the biggest category of educational need, in both statemented and non-statemented children in primary school, affecting 1 in 7 of the school population, and around 45% of young offenders.”

Such statistics point to the deliberate omitting of this spoken language part of the curriculum as one that will have not just an impact on the work of storytellers within schools, but a potential influence on the learning capabilities and achievements of school-age children – and it’s unlikely to be for the better. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, the consultation period for these changes is now over, but if you wish to add your name to the many protesting this and many other proposed revisions to the curriculum, then you can sign Debra Kidd’s petition at http://www.thinking-about-education.co.uk or 38 Degrees’ petition at http://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/re-formulate-the-proposed-new-national-curriculum-primary.

 You can also write to your local MP to register your concerns about the new curriculum, or directly to Michael Gove, Secretary Of State For Education – and perhaps most importantly of all, let the teachers and school officials you know, as well as fellow storytellers, be informed about the proposed changes and what they will mean for oral learning and storytelling in schools. For more information about the potential new National Curriculum for 2014, go here