Quite extraordinarily, it took the introduction of the National Curriculum, in 1990, to give the same status to talk in the curriculum, as had traditionally been ascribed to reading and writing. In huge numbers of classrooms before that time, ‘talk’ had been virtually ‘invisible’. While much of the discourse conducted in lessons was spoken, little conscious attention has historically been paid to the medium of the discourse, except in very few instances, and learning in speaking and listening was virtually unheard of. Yet, as Alan Howe reminds us in his influential book Making Talk Work, Andrew Wilkinson had coined the term ‘oracy’ in the mid-1960s:
and the Newbolt Report into Elementary Education, of 1921, had insisted that ‘speech training must be undertaken from the outset’ (HMSO 1921). In some ways the Newbolt reference offers clues about the priorities of earlier teaching about talk; it was mostly concerned with a transmission of correctness, and with the sounds and impressions it conveyed, rather than any intellectual development that might be brought about in or through the medium itself.