The study of spoken English has acquired great importance in the secondary school curriculum. At GCSE level, where English is a compulsory subject, students may choose from 2010 either GCSE English or both GCSE English Language (a new exam) and GCSE English Literature. Both routes include the study of spoken English, and the new English Language (EngLang) specifications have a separate '˜Spoken Language Study' section that accounts for 10 per cent of the examination. At A Level, English Language is one of the fastest growing subjects. It gives equal weight to the study of spoken English and written English. At both GCSE and A Level, students are required to study sociolinguistic aspects of spoken English, especially language variation and change.
The new emphasis in the school curriculum on spoken English is beneficial for society. It directly responds to the needs of employers: the service industries predominate in the UK, constituting 76% of UK GDP (ONS 2008), so spoken English plays a very important role in the workplace. In multicultural urban areas the focus on sociolinguistic variation in the subject specifications will appeal to students from minority ethnic backgrounds whose own linguistic experiences are relevant, valued and analysed during their studies. It positions speakers of nonstandard varieties to acquire standard English more effectively through learning about the social diversity of English (Wolfram 1998: 182), thus meeting an important objective of the National Curriculum for English (2007: 2.1.c). At A Level, the subject allows the less able and average students to achieve as well as the most gifted (Bleiman and Webster 2006: 29), so it provides opportunities for social mobility and improving the skills base of UK society, with significant benefits for both individuals and society. Furthermore, the subject is '˜boy-friendly': 6% of all male and 8% of all female A level entries are for EngLang, compared to 14% and 26% for English Literature (Rodeiro and Vidal 2006). Boys also prefer A Level EngLang to other language subjects, so it further promotes social equality by giving boys the opportunity to catch up with girls in the acquisition of language skills.
However, the increased focus on spoken language places heavy demands on schoolteachers. Most English teachers have a background in literature rather than language, and so have little or no training in linguistic analysis, especially as applied to spoken language. Perhaps, though, the most severe problem is a lack of classroom materials on spoken English.
Our project will impact on the new focus on spoken English in secondary education and on the professional practice of teachers of English Language by (i) providing a specific resource for teaching about spoken English and (ii) providing accessible up-to-date information about relevant research on language. The resource on spoken English will be a Databank of Spoken English consisting of authentic sound clips with associated class activities, and accompanying Teachers' notes. Information on research will be in the form of an electronic Research Digest.