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As part of a Let’s Think in English submission to the Oracy Commission we’ve asked our LTE Network schools about the impact of the programme in their setting.

Here Veronica Stoodley, Headteacher at Four Marks CE Primary School in Hampshire shares their experiences with the programme.

Four Marks Primary School is an average sized school serving a predominantly white, middle class community. However, we have higher than national average number of children from a Gypsy/ Roma and Traveller background. We also draw children from the surrounding area and have a higher than average number of vulnerable children who transfer to us, often when they have been at risk of exclusion elsewhere.

Our school values underpin a strong principle and desire for social justice within the school and make a difference to the children who need us most. Our lived experience, backed up by research, was that for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged children, their language, oracy and vocabulary was less developed than their peers, placing them at an increased disadvantage over time. For children in this group, it was notable that even when the mechanics of reading were well developed as early readers, they often went on to struggle further up the school as higher order comprehension skills increased the demand on how they extracted meaning from text. Often, they fell behind their peers by the time they were moving on to secondary school. We found that the limited quality of talk and vocabulary put a ceiling on wider understanding and their ability to effectively express their learning and understanding. Our interest in LTE stemmed from this pattern of underachievement for this group of children. We initially piloted LTE as part of our Pupil Premium Strategy.

Let’s Think English has supported us to develop the coherence of children’s language and expression, as well as developing wider and more precise vocabulary to express their ideas and learning. Learning through talk, as well as learning skills for talking and expressing yourself coherently is integral to Let’s Think English. Teachers engaged in Let’s Think English developed greater awareness and clarity on the purpose of the talk for learning within lessons, developing explicit strategies for helping children to engage meaningfully in debate. It became evident that teachers were more aware of how to ‘orchestrate’ talk to move learning forward in a lesson, and they became increasingly skilled at sequencing questions to provoke cognitive conflict that challenged children to think deeply and engage meaningfully. One such strategy was agreeing a code of conduct for Let’s Think English lessons, teaching the ‘rules of positive engagement’ for discussion. Repeatedly revisiting these guidelines at the start of each Let’s Think English lesson, helped to embed this approach as part of wider teaching and learning practice and culture, across the curriculum.

· We listen and build on each other’s ideas.
· We make sure everyone takes part.
· We can disagree respectfully.
· We help each other to stay on topic.
· We give our group view, not our individual view.
· We are prepared to change our mind.
· We give evidence to support our ideas.

Over time, we noticed that the impact of Let’s Think English was far wider and more positive than we had originally anticipated, both for our pupils and staff: For pupils, there was a significant improvement in their ability to articulate their thinking. Tangible improvements in test outcomes at the end of Key Stage 2 SATS were evident, particularly in relation to higher order comprehension skills and maths reasoning. This was particularly notable for our disadvantaged children who were keeping up with their peers, and the drop off of progress that we had initially noticed was considerably reduced or eliminated. Children who struggled to demonstrate their understanding and learning through written means experienced renewed self-confidence and engagement in these lessons, participating in and benefiting from peer and group talk. The ‘freedom’ of learning through talk placed them on an equal footing with their peers, seeing that their contributions to discussion were equally as powerful as their peers.

We also noted a positive impact on children’s social and emotional wellbeing: Let’s Think English pushes children out of the egocentric phase more quickly as they routinely have to listen to different viewpoints and come to a group consensus- a focus on ‘we think’ rather than ‘I think’. Learning to identify and articulate the evidence for a viewpoint, enabled children to learn and practise the skills for disagreeing well. Children became more adept at looking at evidence to help form their opinion, and more readily accepted that it is healthy to change your mind and opinion if the evidence convinces you otherwise.

More recently, the upheaval created by the COVID pandemic not only widened the language gap with many of our younger children coming into school delayed spoken language development and limited vocabulary, it also had a significant impact on social and emotional communication. Children found it harder to share with others, to negotiate play, to express emotions and feelings appropriately. It seemed that the effects of being in a ‘bubble’ locked children in to the egocentric state again and for a time we saw a negative impact on their ability to compromise, negotiate and see things from alternative perspectives. Re-engaging with Let’s Think, as well as how this has influenced the whole culture of teaching and learning in our school, was an integral part of our Covid ‘Recovery’.