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

Voice 21 is a charity that exists to enable teachers and schools to provide a high quality oracy education. They deliver teacher development and school improvement programmes and as campaign for oracy to have a higher status in the education system.

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HundrED 2019

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Target group
October 2017
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.

About the innovation

What is Voice 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.

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 21was 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..

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability

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.

Implementation steps

Build an understanding of oracy

Normalising the language used to structure and teach oracy helps to embed oracy in the culture of a school.

Voice 21’s Four Strands framework helps to develop a shared language and means of assessing progress in oracy. Familiarising students with talk guidelines, groupings and roles help to develop their confidence to speak up in class. Once embedded, well-structured talk can help to cognitively challenge students by encouraging them to extend and challenge their ideas.

Make oracy part of the school culture

Embedding oracy across the whole school emphasizes the value of speaking and listening and ensures that students' voices are recognized and respected at every opportunity.

At School 21, assemblies and parents' evenings have been reimagined to allow for student participation and provide a platform for students to find their voice.

Facilitate classroom practice

Planning for talk ensures that students are gaining the most from talk activities.

Scaffolding talk, modeling language, co-creating talk guidelines and familiarising students with talkroles are all ways in which talk can be embedded into the classroom.

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.

When planning, teachers should consider the purpose of the talk, what scaffolding is needed to support the teaching of that talk and what structures should be in place to enable students to effectively participate.

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.

Protocols to support reflection can be used to help students recognize what skills they’re developing and where they can improve. Voice 21's Four Strandscan be helpful in assessing and developing students' oracy skills.

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