The problem

On average an inner-city child speaks only four words per lesson. Yet Improvements to standards of spoken literacy in our schools have been shown to have positive benefits for social mobility and student’s critical thinking and reasoning skills, wellbeing, confidence and self esteem, civic engagement, and employability.

Teachers lack expertise and confidence in teaching oracy and are unlikely to receive training. In fact, 57% of teachers say they have not received any training in oracy in the last three years, and 53% would not know where to look for support, resources or for information if they wanted it.

Despite a wealth of evidence from educators, academics, economists and employers as to the importance of spoken communication, oracy currently has meagre status within our education system with very few schools actively teaching the skills and knowledge young people need to thrive as speakers.

The solution

Voice 21 aims to lead a big, irreversible change in the education system so that state schools in England give oracy the same status as reading and writing.

Their mission is for all children and young people, regardless of their background, to have access to high quality oracy education enabling them to develop the communication skills and confidence necessary to thrive in the 21st Century.

57% of teachers say they have not received any training in oracy in the last three years

Work in action

Voice 21 was launched in 2014 by innovative educational charity the 21 Trust. Based on methods and approaches developed at School 21 in East London, Voice 21 supports schools and teachers across England to develop student’s speaking skills and improve the quality of talk in their classrooms.

They also work to raise the status and understanding of Oracy with parents and the wider community of policy makers, business leaders and politicians.

Big Change is now supporting Voice 21 to expand and scale this pioneering programme – helping them to focus on those areas of greatest need across the country, build sustainable capacity in schools and across the teaching profession, and embed change within the education system.

The Big Changers

Peter Hyman, Executive Head Teacher & Founder of School 21

Peter Hyman is co-founder and the headteacher of School 21. Prior to setting up School 21 and 21 Trust he worked in several schools as a teaching assistant, history teacher and deputy headteacher, and before that was a strategist and speechwriter for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Beccy Earnshaw, Director Voice 21

Beccy became Director of  Voice 21 in 2015 having previously been Founding Director of Schools NorthEast (network of 1500 Schools). She has also worked for The Children’s Commissioner for England, The Electoral Commission, The Hansard Society and BBC Parliament.

Ed Fidoe

Ed Fidoe, is co-founder of School 21 and founder of the London Interdisciplinary School. After leaving McKinsey in 2010 to start School 21 Ed has also advised leaders at Cambridge University, the London School of Economics, ARK Schools, Teach First, and Eton College. He is also the co-founder of EDSPACE, a co-working space for innovative education companies. Previously he was a theatre producer.

Voice 21 have directly trained over 10,000 teachers, reaching over 1,200 schools


We are proud to have supported Voice 21 to deliver the Oracy Leaders program, and grow their team. Since we first funded in 2014, they have gone from piloting in just 11 schools to reaching over 1200 schools, working with over 10,000 teachers and through this impacting over 290,000 students.

They have received international recognition for their work, including being recognised as one of the top 100 education innovations globally by HundrED in 2018 and 2019.

The growth of their award-winning programs speak for themselves, but the students themselves are also able to confirm the impact of the program on their lives:

“The more we’ve got used to speaking up in class and the more people’s oracy has improved in the way they articulate themselves, there’s a lot more discussions that go on in classrooms now”

Year 10 student

“I think it helps a lot in your life because it tells you that you can always build up confidence to speak in public. Speaking to people has to work or otherwise nothing really happens–or changes.” – Year 6 student