New research and leading educationalists call for schools to take speaking seriously

A coalition of educationalists, schools and academics are calling for a much greater emphasis on teaching all children and young people spoken communication skills, to improve social mobility, employability, educational achievement and well-being.

In response to this need, Voice 21 and the English-Speaking Union launched the Oracy Network to amplify the voices of those seeking to change the status of talk in schools.

Alongside this, two new reports published this week – Oracy: the State of Speaking in our Schools from Voice 21 and Speaking Frankly: the case for oracy in the curriculum from the English Speaking Union – present a compelling case for strengthening the focus on speaking and listening skills development in our schools.

Exclusive polling found that the majority of teachers and school leaders in the state sector think oracy is as important, if not more so, than traditional areas such as literacy and numeracy. However only a minority of schools are consistently providing meaningful opportunities for students to develop these skills.

Based on evidence of employer demand for oral communication skills, the findings of Oracy: the State of Speaking in our Schools suggests that oracy has untapped potential in enabling pupils to compete in the jobs market.

The research, authored by the education think tank LKMco, identifies that teachers in independent schools are significantly more likely than practitioners in state schools to feel oracy contributes ‘a great deal’ to their pupils’ linguistic development, and independent schools are also much more likely to have debate clubs, engage with external organisations to support oracy, and to communicate with parents about the quality of their pupils’ verbal contributions in lessons.

Peter Hyman, Executive Head Teacher and Founder of School 21, said: “Teaching oracy is an issue of social equity. Too often young people are denied the opportunity to learn how to articulate their ideas effectively and gain the confidence to find their voice – opportunities consistently afforded to more advantaged students.

“Which would have a bigger impact on social mobility: more grammar schools or every child being taught how to become an eloquent speaker?”

Despite the evidence in support of oracy, teachers identified a number of barriers to sustaining a consistent and comprehensive approach in their schools, including:
● A lack of time;
● Anxiety that shy and under-confident pupils might struggle, or that pupils’ behaviour will get worse;
● Priority being given to other tasks (in particular, pupils’ writing);
● A lack of confidence and expertise, exacerbated by a paucity of training;
● Perceptions that oracy is only occasionally relevant when teaching, or relevant only in certain subjects such as English; and
● A lack of active support from school leadership.

Beccy Earnshaw, Director of Voice 21 said: “Despite a wealth of evidence from educators, academics, economists and employers as to the importance of oracy, it currently has meagre status within our education system.

“It is clear from the research that there is an appetite from schools and teachers for more time for talk, support for speaking and resources for rhetoric.

“Voice 21 aims to lead a change in the education system encouraging all state schools in England to embrace oracy.

“If we are truly committed to empowering every young person regardless of their background, with the belief that their voice has value and the ability to articulate their thoughts so others will listen, then it is time to get talking in class.”

Voice 21 is currently working with schools across England to trial oracy teaching methods as part of an Education Endowment Fund project and will be launching an inquiry into the future of speaking skills in January 2017.

This research will inform a campaign to raise the status of oracy that includes the development of a network of oracy teachers and regional oracy hubs, the launch of an inquiry into the future of speaking skills, provision of training programmes and resources for schools, and the creation of a cross-sector coalition of organisations and individuals to champion oracy in the curriculum.

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