Duncan PartridgeDirector of Education

International Perspectives on Oracy

Wednesday 11 Oct 2017

Our Director of Education updates us on the state of speaking across the world after our International Council Meeting 2017

Twelve months ago LKMco (The education and youth 'think and action-tank') and Voice 21 published their research on ‘The State of Speaking in Our Schools. This report shone a light on the state of oracy in classrooms across the UK and was hugely valuable in moving forward our understanding of this area of education.

In contrast, insight into the status of oracy in other education systems around the world is restricted by a lack of research. And that’s where we can step in. As an international educational charity with a focus on oracy skills, the ESU is well placed to begin to redress this situation.

The recent ESU International Council Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, focused on ‘Oracy in Global Classrooms’. With educators from 22 countries* present, the discussions provided a fascinating opportunity to compare and contrast the state of speaking in the world’s schools.

The following is a very brief summary of some of the main themes and findings that emerged:

The importance of oracy is widely recognised

Around the table there was a clear consensus that oracy skills (in mother tongues as well as other languages taught) are vitally important in their own right as well as for facilitating wider learning. A Chinese representative commented: “Good speaking skills help move people up career and social ladders.”

Some countries seem to give oracy a higher status than the UK does

Lebanon is a good example. Schools and universities provide plenty of opportunities for students to develop their oracy skills in Arabic, French and English, particularly through public speaking and debating but also other methods.

Many of the barriers to oracy skill development present in the UK are similar to those in other parts of the world

Namely: a lack of teacher time and confidence to teach oracy skills; the prioritisation of other skills; accountability pressures related to high stakes testing and a lack of support from leadership.

National governments are slowly beginning to recognise the importance of oracy skills

For example, this month an ESU representative in France has been invited to meet with a high level representative from the Ministry of Education to discuss oracy in the curriculum. Similarly a leading Malaysian think-tank is urging education policy makers in their country to put more emphasis on spoken language skills.

Although we only scratched the surface of the international oracy scene in Lisbon, there was plenty of appetite to build on this event and to use the ESU’s international presence as a platform for facilitating global collaboration around oracy skill building.

The World Economic Forum recently highlighted oracy as a global educational priority. This is an example of what seems to be a growing international consensus around the importance of fostering effective speaking listening skills in the world’s youth.

We look forward to continuing to work with our national and international partners, as we strive to place oracy at the heart of the world’s educational agenda.

*Australia, Bangladesh, China, Chile, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Latvia, Lebanon, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States

To find out more about our recent council meeting, take a look at the news story.


Are you a teacher wanting to get your students involved in oracy? Find out about the different programmes we run.