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Will Learning Oracy Enhance Our Children’s Future?

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This week on 6th July 2023, Sir Keir Starmer, labour leader, gave a major speech on education policy. He said that lacking communication skills is a major barrier for children as they advance through life. Improving their ability to communicate would be part of breaking the pernicious link between where you start in life and where you finish. 

Sir Keir pledged to improve children’s speaking skills as part of a drive to break down class barriers to opportunity. He unveiled a new goal of half a million more children reaching early learning targets by 2030 as part of Labour’s fifth and final mission ahead of the general election, expected next year.

As the oracy lead at the Excelsior Multi Academy Trust, I fully agree with Sir Keir’s proposals. Our children need explicit teaching of the oracy skills they will need to express their opinions and engage with others in the range of contexts they will encounter when they leave us.

Only a progressive oracy curriculum, delivered in every lesson and beyond in the classroom, will provide that. We believe we are doing this already and would strongly advocate for it to be recognised as a curriculum subject by Ofsted. The current speaking and listening guidance is too limited.

Oracy is central to closing the disadvantage gap. Public speaking is taught and practised so well in the independent sector, and that’s what we’re doing in our schools. All children need to know their voices and values.

Unfortunately, it is less of a priority in many state schools; it is not currently a formal part of the national curriculum, making it difficult for these schools to focus on it. This is a great shame as all students deserve to benefit from these skills.

Excelsior has a public speaking curriculum from early years to year six to ensure our children practise those skills for various audiences and purposes. The curriculum teaches our children to find their voice and speak up. This culminates in our public speaking competition, “Speak Up Speak Out”, which is open to all year six pupils and this year takes place at the Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham on 7th July.

I asked our CEO, Hazel Pulley, for her comments, and she said: “It is great to hear a politician recognise the importance of speaking and communication skills. At the Excelsior Multi-Academy-Trust, we have long known that these skills are essential for students to succeed in life and reach their goals. Many independent schools prioritise oracy, but this happens far less in state schools as it is not a formal part of the national curriculum. It is a great shame as all students deserve to benefit from these skills.

“Unfortunately, in the past, politicians have paid little attention to oracy; it has been assumed that these skills will happen automatically. But they don’t. Students and parents need support to hone these skills and practise them. This has meant that schools like ours must find other ways to help our primary students develop these important oracy skills. At Excelsior, we believe good speaking and communication are so essential that we have made it our mission to ensure every student has a voice.

“At Excelsior, when we work with our students and parents, we use the voice 21 and Oracy Cambridge framework. This identifies the different oracy skills our children need to develop. The skills apply in any language, so our parents can practice these at home confidently.

“This is a great framework, and we’d love to see it embraced by every school across the UK. Skills such as projecting your voice, making eye contact and turn-taking are key for children to have before they start school.

“We know from personal experience that when a student masters good communication skills, they do better in school and life, and we strongly believe oracy should be a key part of the national curriculum. We, therefore, applaud Sir Keir for recognising this and committing to making it one of his five missions.”

Angela Schofield is the oracy lead at the Excelsior Multi Academy Trust

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