Last Friday, the Education Secretary addressed ASCL about her ambitions for the teaching profession and how to support teachers in a school-led system. A key aspect underpinning the topics covered in her speech was ‘teachers and leaders as the drivers of social mobility.’
Ms Greening identified four key areas contributing to this drive: recruitment and retention of quality teachers; improving the quality of curriculum content and delivery; having ‘the right’ school improvement infrastructure (focusing largely on developing the impact of teaching schools); and targeted school improvement (supported by a new £140 million strategic school improvement fund).
Thinking about the curriculum, no doubt every education professional will agree there has been significant change over the past few years, with opinions of those changes varying across the sector. However, there is one aspect of the curriculum that has received very little attention over recent years: a component of the curriculum that has huge potential to improve social mobility; one that underpins every subject in primary, secondary and further education; and one that is possibly more important than ever in the world of work. It is oracy.
Despite these claims, oracy, or the spoken word, receives little attention in most primary and secondary schools. A recent report by Voice 21 and LKMco ‘Oracy: the state of speaking in our schools’ (November 2016) provides some insight as to why.
Despite 70% of 906 teacher survey responses stating they felt it was ‘very important’ that schools help pupils develop oracy skills, assessment pressures in other subjects and an ever squeezed curriculum mean that in reality, many state schools do not explicitly teach oracy skills.
The teachers in the survey advocated the importance of oracy in helping pupils develop the following skills and characteristics:
- Understanding and using language
- Increasing confidence in articulation
- Developing understanding of particular subjects
- Exploring feelings and empathising with others
- Voicing opinions and participating in activities
- Extending career prospects.
All pupils benefit from development in these areas, but improving oracy can perhaps be seen as even more beneficial to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. The statistics speak for themselves: between 60-90% of young people in the justice system have a form of speech, language and communication need; when the same set of teachers were asked ‘Which pupils in particular benefit from oracy?’ 71% answered pupils from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Employers also emphasise the importance of developing oracy skills: 49% of 310 employers in CBI/Pearson’s education and skills survey say there is ‘room for improvement’ in essential capabilities such as communication skills among the workforce, and many would like schools to do more to help pupils develop communication skills.
It could be argued that the private sector does more to teach oracy skills. Many private schools teach presenting and debating skills through societies, clubs and specific lessons, which develop and extend skills such as articulation and confidence to speak in front of audiences.
A good starting point to develop oracy in your school would be the oracy framework on page 13 of the Voice 21 report. This framework is used by School 21 (an outstanding through-school in east London) to teach and analyse students’ communication skills. The oracy framework isolates the key components of spoken communication, breaking them down into four areas: linguistic, physical, cognitive, and social & emotional. Each of the four areas then has specific skills attributed to it, which can be utilised to plan oracy activities and assess pupils’ skill development.