Oracy is more important than ever

11 February 2021

In light of the release of Speak For Change’s interim report, Big Change’s Eloïse Haylor explores oracy and why young people feel these skills are more important than ever. The inquiry is still gathering evidence from parents, teachers and young people, so do submit your views to help shape the future of oracy in education.

Speaking in October, Emma Hardy MP, Chair of the Oracy All Party Parliamentary Group, said “that simple act of talking to each other is more important than ever. Lockdown showed the need we all have for human interaction and its importance in particular for young people’s wellbeing and development”.  

The APPG’s interim Speak For Change Inquiry report was launched in December with a brilliant secretariat of committed organisations led by Big Change alumni Voice 21. The inquiry seeks to build on current momentum to improve both the status of oracy in our education system, and ensure access to oracy education for every child.

The pandemic has heightened the critical need for this work. The report highlights that “92% of teachers think school closures during lockdown have contributed to a widening of the ‘word gap’ ”. 

This was supported by another of our project partners, Parent Ping, whose survey showed that ‘64% parents agree that the closure of schools reduced opportunities for their children to develop oracy skills’. As children across the UK begin the new term with continued uncertainty and disruption, now is a critical moment to ensure the value of developing oracy, ‘learning to talk and learning through talk’, and that it is more widely understood and invested in.

Why do young people themselves say that attention to oracy is so urgent?

Emmanuel, a student at Biddenham School explained to the Oracy APPG: “What I see with my fellow students is that lockdown has caused both isolation and polarisation. With no one to challenge them, they have found it more difficult to listen to different viewpoints. And yet with the uncertainty of the modern world, being able to reach mutual understanding and agreement has never been more important. Good oracy skills enable people to share their experiences and deal with common issues.”

It’s vital that young people are given the space and are supported to articulate their own narratives, making sense of their experiences during this profoundly challenging time as well as building resilience to navigate what’s ahead. Contributors to the inquiry, including the UCL Centre for Inclusive Education and the Fair Education Alliance, emphasised how oracy is especially important for the most vulnerable students, for whom the attainment gap has widened even further in the last year faced with compounded disadvantage and for whom oral language interventions has pronounced impact on academic outcomes according to research by the Education Endowment Foundation.

The interim report suggests there is conclusive evidence for the need to rapidly increase the quality and accessibility of oracy learning in schools, supporting teachers through training and aligning government policy to enable a shift throughout the system. It presents a strong case for investment in oracy as one of the keys to ‘building back better’ post pandemic. 

Above all, I am struck by how much reason we have for optimism” ends Emma Hardy, MP. “Appetite for oracy is high… Alongside everything else that teachers deal with day to day, I remain in awe of the work [on oracy] already underway in schools across the country. We are pushing at an open door. There is near consensus on oracy’s importance. Our job now is to look forward and build on this momentum.” 

The Oracy APPG is inviting feedback and of course debate on its initial findings, as well as further evidence submissions from interested parties before the final Inquiry Report is published in the Spring. A variety of submission formats are welcomed – so do share the invitation with your network and help build the chorus of support championing the role for oracy in classrooms across the country.