Children get lessons to help for awkward chats with the boss

The North London Collegiate School (Nigel Cox/Geograph)
The North London Collegiate School (Nigel Cox/Geograph)

One of London’s top private schools is teaching children how to speak to adults they find “overawing” and aims to help them during future awkward work dinners with bosses.

Vicky Bingham, headteacher of the £24,000-a-year North London Collegiate School in Edgware, said oracy — being able to speak well — was of vital importance and backed Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s plans for it to be taught more widely.

She said she was inspired by the “family lunch” that Katharine Birbalsingh — known as Britain’s strictest headteacher — had introduced at Michaela Community School in Brent. Pupils at the state comprehensive are given a topic for conversation to discuss at their tables every day.

Mrs Bingham said: “I have adapted this idea for my own school to help pupils converse with adults they find slightly overawing, like the head. One day, they may have to have awkward dinners with their boss so I am easing them in gently.”

Sir Keir pledged to put confident speaking at the heart of teaching if Labour comes to power. He said that he wanted to see oracy skills embedded in England’s schools to help children in their careers and lives.

Ofsted also this month urged schools to ensure children become “competent speakers”. The watchdog said children should be taught to present, debate and explain their thinking, saying teachers too often put a pupil’s weakness in speaking down to a lack of confidence.

Mrs Bingham said: “As the head of an independent school, I am no fan of Labour’s proposals to introduce VAT on school fees. But I cheered when Sir Keir Starmer announced plans to make the spoken word or ‘oracy’ a cornerstone of his education policy.

“If we are serious about social mobility then this is an excellent priority. Being able to speak with a degree of fluency and confidence in a public space makes many jobs easier. Many jobs require people to persuade, sell, pitch, negotiate, chair, present, explain or question — all tasks which require dexterity in the spoken word.”

As part of its focus on oracy, North London Collegiate School also runs mini “model United Nations” conferences which local children also attend.

Mrs Bingham said an oral element should be introduced to exams, with students tested on their speaking skills not just their writing.

It comes after research by the National Literacy Trust found that the poorest students start school 19 months behind richer ones in language and vocabulary. The trust also found that in the most deprived inner-city schools the average number of words spoken by a child per lesson was just four.