Case Study: Sir William Burrough School

Sir William Burrough School is a comprehensive primary school in Tower Hamlets, London. There are roughly 350 students in the school, comprising all years from nursery through to Year Six. 

Sir William Burroughs have developed a speaking and listening culture throughout the school over the last decade. Whilst all staff try and foster speaking and listening skills where they can, head teacher Avril Newman and deputy head Anthony Wilson are particular oracy champions.

English Speaking Board Junior Assessment

All students in Year 5 sit the English Speaking Board Junior Assessment. This is a unique qualification, specifically designed to develop speaking and listening skills. There are four sections to the qualification. Students must give a talk explaining something, introduce and present a memorised poem or drama extract, read aloud from a favourite book, and answer questions after their presentations. At SWB they have found the qualification a great way of focussing speaking and listening teaching, while also giving students a sense of purpose and achievement.

How else have Sir William Burrough developed their speaking and listening culture?

In addition to the English Speaking Board qualification, debating club is open to Years 5 and 6 and is run by Avril and Anthony. The club meets once a week after school and introduces pupils to debating. As well as a popular in-school extra-curricular activity, the club also enters a team into the London Primary Debating Championships every year. SWB has won the competition once, as well as ranking in the top four teams almost every year.

SWB are now looking at how they can improve the school’s speaking and listening cultue even more. First of all, they want to raise a more holistic awareness in staff of what a good orator does, and what good oracy involves, so that they are better able to showcase and teach this to their students. Secondly, they are hoping to develop the use of ‘sentence stems’ within classroom discussions. Sentence stems are set phrases to help students discuss and respond to ideas; for example ‘I wonder if…’, ‘I agree with what you’re saying, but…’ and ‘I would like to invite you to consider…’. The aim here is to help create nuanced discussions, in the future conditional space, that allow students to really engage with and listen to one another, with the sentence stems helping to structure those discussions.

What Other Schools Can Learn from Sir William Burrough School:

All schools could follow parts of their programme. For example they could:

  • set up a debating club
  • look into entering their students into English Speaking Board qualifications
  • run an internal debating competition, or enter local/national competition
  • use speaking and listening exercises regularly in lessons
  • use sentence stems.

If you would be interested in having a debating workshop, or booking in a debating/speaking&listening focused CPD session then please contact

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