The capacity to communicate clearly, the ability to articulate thoughts and ideas eloquently and the confidence to speak in a wide range of contexts are fundamental to success in life and work. Yet too few young people are taught the skills and knowledge they need to thrive as confident speakers.
Evidence shows that improvements in speaking skills, or oracy, have significant positive impacts on academic outcomes, employability, wellbeing, self-esteem, civic engagement and social mobility. But there is no shared understanding or common expectation for oracy across schools. As spoken communication has no explicit currency within the UK school system, oracy is often viewed as a peripheral or optional undertaking by schools.
Young people from poorer backgrounds suffer a double disadvantage in relation to oracy. On average, they have significantly lower levels of spoken communication skills when starting school and are less likely to attend a school that has a focus on oracy. This means that, all too often, these young people are denied the opportunity to learn how to articulate their ideas effectively and gain the confidence to find their voice.
Through a focus on oracy in school, children and young people learn how to express themselves and communicate clearly. They become able to explain ideas and emotions to other people, not only in a school setting but in their lives outside the classroom too. They develop the skills to listen effectively, discuss and respond with meaning, and debate and disagree agreeably. They gain the confidence, self-belief and courage to speak in public and share their thoughts, intellect and creativity with the world.
Voice 21 was launched in 2015, based on methods and approaches developed at School 21 in East London.
At School 21, oracy is at the heart of teaching and learning. Assemblies are restructured, grouping students into discussion circles for greater participation and debate. Classrooms are talk-rich, with discussion guidelines and talk roles helping students to navigate new ideas and build on each other’s understanding. Harkness discussions, where students sit at seminar-style circular tables to explore and challenge new topics, are commonplace. Reception pupils are taught the techniques of storytellers and from age 8 and all pupils deliver TED-style talks to an audience.
Inspired by this approach and by the growing demand for oracy education, Voice 21 was launch to support teachers and schools across the UK to develop the capacity of all teachers to embed oracy into their teaching and learning.
Working with School 21 and Oracy Cambridge, a research center at the University of Cambridge, Voice 21 has created a framework, curriculum and teacher toolkit for oracy.
Voice 21 now works with thousands of teachers every year, offering professional development programmes, resources and research to ensure the development of excellent oracy teaching practice.
They are also part of the Oracy All Party Parliamentary Group currently running in the UK to investigate the current provision of oracy education in the UK, assess the value and impact of oracy education and identify the barriers to children accessing and receiving quality oracy education..