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How can young people find their voice for success in school and beyond?

Voice 21

London, United Kingdom
An organization that trains, inspires and supports state schools to teach spoken communication, dialogue, and public speaking to all students and campaigns for oracy to have a higher status in the education system.

What is Voice 21?

Oli de Botton, Head Teacher, School 21
“Every student has something to say. It’s the job of a school to help students find their voice, confidence and poise. Voices have the power to shape viewpoints, resolve differences and overcome obstacles.”

Oli de Botton, Head Teacher, School 21

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. 

In 2012, School 21 opened in East London, with the aim of reimagining education to prepare students for the 21st century. Oracy is at the heart of teaching and learning at the school. 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.

This culture of purposeful talk throughout the school not only aids students’ personal development but also helps to stretch their cognitive abilities. Its success has led to a growing interest from other schools looking for teachable outcomes that will better prepare their students for the future workplace.

Voice 21 was established to further enable School 21 to share this innovative approach to education. The organization works with educators to raise the profile of oracy in education and develop the capacity of all teachers to bring oracy into their classes.

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 also provides teachers with professional development and resources to support schools to embed a sustained and comprehensive commitment to verbal literacy in every classroom.

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Innovation Overview
Target Group
3 960
Tips for implementation
Voice 21 works with teachers and school leaders who are passionate about developing a culture of oracy in their classroom and throughout their school. Their free online resources allow teachers to plan and create purposeful opportunities for talk to be implemented in class at little to no cost. Voice 21 also offers a one-year individual Oracy Leader Development training programme at £700- £1,500 per person.
Connect with innovator
Lizzie Lynch
HundrED Review

Voice 21 is all about bringing a lost teaching technique back into the classroom. One of the biggest barriers students face is a lack of communication skills. Voice 21 aims to give students confidence in oracy again.


Voice 21 has trained thousands of teachers, worked with hundreds of schools across the UK and dramatically increased the resources available to support oracy teaching and learning.


Currently, Voice 21 works predominantly in the UK. Their resources have been used across the US, Australia, Europe and Asia.


See this innovation in action

Oracy in the Classroom: Strategies for Effective Talk


Achievements & Awards


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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Build an understanding of oracy
Normalising the language used to structure and teach oracy helps to embed oracy in the culture of a school.
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Make oracy part of the school culture
Embedding oracy across the whole school emphasises the value of speaking and listening and ensures that students' voices are recognised and respected at every opportunity.
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Facilitate classroom practice
Planning for talk ensures that students are gaining the most from talk activities.
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Plan an oracy curriculum
An oracy curriculum should provide students with lots of different opportunities to practice different types of talk and develop their oracy skills.
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Offer assessment and feedback
The Four Strands provide a useful way to assess a student’s performance in oracy and understand how they can make progress.
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