Background and Intention

Background and Objectives to the Programme

Introduction

Oracy is what the school does to support the development of children’s capacity to use speech to express their thoughts and communicate with others, in education and in life. It is our ability to communicate that enables us to build positive relationships, collaborate for common purpose, deliberate and share our ideas as citizens. It is through speaking and listening that we develop our views, apply knowledge and extend our capacity to think critically. These skills are needed today more than ever before.

However, even though the National Curriculum states that primary pupils should develop skills in spoken language (to articulate and justify answers, participate in discussions, speak fluently with an increasing command of English, selecting appropriate registers and maintaining the interest of the listener) it generally attracts much less teaching time and teacher expertise in comparison with the development of pupils’ writing and reading skills.

In the most recent years however, there has been a growing recognition that schools have a special role to play in helping pupils develop their skills in spoken forms of communication, and in pushing the boundaries of learning itself through talk. Oracy offers a compelling means of extending pupils’ linguistic, social, emotional and cognitive development. Oracy, which encompasses both of the processes described above and depicted below, is not just about learning to talk well, it is also about learning well through talk and so includes both generic and ‘subject-specific’ oracy.

Delivered well, oracy can permeate pupils’ lives, both within and beyond the school gates. It has enormous potential for addressing social disadvantage and holds the keys to broader societal benefits. Employers need a workforce capable of communicating with clarity and sensitivity, and society needs citizens who can engage thoughtfully and actively in the democratic process. What is more, families, friends and neighbours need to be able to talk about how they feel in a manner that encourages discussion, empathy and understanding, not conflict and division. Perhaps most importantly, individuals themselves want to feel valued and that we have a voice.

Schools that have a strong approach to oracy are making a substantial contribution to children’s lives that can improve:

  • Language and communication
  • Social and emotional benefits
  • Cognition
  • Civic engagement and empowerment
  • Employment opportunities and economic benefits
  • Social disadvantage 

The school context

The national status of oracy in schools is currently being championed by an Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), who launched a new inquiry in 2018 to improve oracy education in schools. They recognise the growing consensus across society including government, employers, teachers, and parents, as to the importance of oracy in education. However, members of the Oracy APPG are concerned that oracy is being undervalued and overlooked within state education, denying the majority of children and young people the opportunity to develop these vital skills and hampering social mobility, educational achievement, wellbeing and future employability. This inquiry is investigating the current provision of oracy education in the UK, assessing the value and impact of oracy education and identifying the barriers to children accessing and receiving quality oracy education. The group exists to coordinate research, promote best practice and encourage the overarching principles of oracy in education and society at large. They are gathering research and evidence from the wider educational sector, seeking to gain the broadest understanding of the impact of oracy education from Early Years through to employment.

This APPG was, in part, prompted by a recent national study of oracy, “Oracy - the state of speaking in our schools” (2016), the first of its kind. It presented survey data from over 900 teachers across the UK, plus findings from interviews and focus groups in schools across the country, as well as interviews with academics and teaching experts.

It found that time pressures and prioritisation of other tasks (like writing) gets in the way of teachers using oracy to its full potential. Most teachers feel that oracy is critically important because it is the bedrock of pupils’ ability to use language and communicate and they also recognise its social and emotional benefits and its cognitive, civic and economic potential. Secondary schools in particular identify that has untapped potential to support pupils’ job prospects.

Although many teachers say they frequently use a range of strategies to develop pupils’ oracy, they worry that support for oracy across different lessons, classrooms and schools is often patchy. Many schools do not consistently provide meaningful opportunities for pupils to develop oracy outside the classroom. Pupils’ opportunities tend to be limited to speaking in assemblies, and few schools evaluate the quality of pupils’ verbal contributions in lessons, or communicate with parents about the quality of these contributions.

The greatest barrier standing in the way of quality and consistent oracy in all lessons is a lack of time, but other constraints include:

  • Teachers’ anxiety that under-confident pupils might struggle, or that pupils’ behaviour will get worse
  • Teachers prioritising other tasks and, in particular, pupils’ writing
  • Teachers’ lack of confidence and expertise, exacerbated by a paucity of training
  • Teachers’ perception that oracy is only occasionally relevant when teaching, or relevant only in certain subjects such as English
  • A lack of active support from school leadership

Discussions with Derby headteachers through the Primary and Secondary Strategic Groups indicate that these national findings are reflected in local schools. In the early years’ phase, the TALK Derby strategy is starting to support the development of speech, language and communication with children under 5 years old, but there is no equivalent support for oracy leadership in Derby primary and secondary schools.

It has therefore been approved by the Derby Opportunity Area Board to provide funding to deliver a programme of oracy leadership in schools.

Hardwick Primary School has been designated as the lead school and will be managing this programme on behalf of schools in Derby and Derby Opportunity Area.