Raising expectations of student oracy with their parents

Sutton Park Primary RSA Academy in Kidderminster, West Midlands

Angela Crawley is the headteacher of Sutton Park Primary RSA Academy in Kidderminster, West Midlands. She has worked with Voice 21 as a National Oracy Leader. 

It has made us reconsider the format of all parent consultations, particularly because it emphasises the most important part: enabling students to share the work they are particularly proud of.

I am the headteacher of a one form entry primary school in Kidderminster in the West Midlands. Our children come in far behind in terms of national expectations – this year’s baseline data showed 22% were at expected levels at reception year. Our children are up against it in terms of their life skills. I signed up to work with Voice 21 because it has become very clear to me that communication and the spoken word is the answer for our children moving forward – we were thinking, what will give them the biggest returns for life after school? If you are articulate, whatever you go on to do, you will do a better job. Oracy is such an important life skill. 

Since starting the Programme in September, there has been one project in particular where we have seen a clear impact on the student’s oracy skills: presentations to parents during their termly consultation meetings. 

Raising expectations of student oracy with their parents 

The problem we were having was one of very low aspirations from our parents on behalf of their children.  I do ‘school drive duty’ daily and can see the issue quite clearly that the children who behave beautifully all day with fantastic attitudes to learning turn into something else completely as soon as they are off the school site – Jekyll and Hyde! So when feedback had been positive during parent consultation meetings, often they would remark that:  “you must have the wrong child, you can’t be talking about my son/daughter!’

Normally, parent’s consultations were led by our teachers and attended by parents, students were rarely present. Realising that this could be a new opportunity for students to present their learning, I discussed the idea of a child led parents’ consultation with both the parents and children and they agreed to give it a go.  Before the consultation the children were nervous and the parents didn’t seem to think that it would work, but we worked with the students to build their confidence.

In order to try and address this I selected four children from Year 2 and four more from Year 5.  They were chosen either because their parents had expressed concern over how withdrawn they feared their children were or because they had expressed low ambition for their child’s ability previously.  I discussed the idea of a child led parents’ consultation with both the parents and children and they agreed to give it a go – interestingly the children were nervous and the parents didn’t seem to think that it would work.

I then worked with the children to complete a really basic prompt sheet to guide their presentation.  They then looked through their books and used post it notes to select two pieces of work that they were particularly proud of out of each book (6 pieces in total) before they rehearsed the reasons why they had chosen them with me. Although I sat with the child for reassurance during the presentation, they led it by themselves.  All of the selected group attended their consultations and the feedback was really positive.

‘I didn’t realise how well he was doing, it’s great to hear him being proud of work in maths, I thought he hated it, I certainly did when I was at school.’ Year 5 parent

‘It was scary but I was proud of myself for doing it.’ Year 2 child

Despite the small scale, parents’ consultations have never had such an impact. One Year 5 child with dyslexia – his mum’s perspective of his school day is it’s all really hard. He’s not keen to read at home. But when he gave his presentation, clearly he knew exactly what the learning was – he absolutely nailed it! Mum was able to see that yes, he does find some things hard, but he’s also doing fantastic learning. He also clearly really enjoyed it. Another Year 5 child, who’s very quiet, to the point that Mum is worried she makes no noise at all in school – once she got going her presentation was really very strong. Mum thought – oh, maybe I shouldn’t worry, she does have a voice and she knows what she’s learning. 

It has made us reconsider the format of all parent consultations, particularly because it emphasises the most important part: enabling students to share the work they are particularly proud of. At the moment, the books are there and parents flick through, but they’re not sure what they’re looking for – a child talking through the learning they did, that’s so much more powerful. 

Considering the emphasis we have in school on oracy, all staff could easily prepare for that with all of their children with minimum input.  It doesn’t add to teacher workload but it does make such a difference. For the future – a letter will be sent out to the parents saying it’s important that their children come to parents’ consultations: they need to speak and have things to add! Our children have got this, and it’s about time their parents believed that and aimed higher for them.

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