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Home > Our educational approach

How we work with teachers to improve oracy skills and cross-cultural understanding

Educational approach

Our educational approach

We work with teachers and education practitioners to improve oracy skills and cross-cultural understanding so that all young people, regardless of their background, can make their voices heard.

Our resources, programmes and competitions all teach two things. First, they teach students how to talk – how to structure a speech, summarise information, listen critically and to consider and address different audiences. Second, they help students to learn through talk. By discussing current affairs and topical issues, in any class or subject, students not only acquire deeper subject knowledge but a greater awareness of the world around them. Their horizons broaden and they improve their ability to consider and evaluate diverse opinions and points of view.

As students get used to speaking in class and learning to treat other people’s opinions with respect, so their social skills improve, along with their self-confidence, self-awareness and empathy.

Our approach chimes with the growing amount of research pointing to the importance of education in instilling interpersonal skills and character traits such as resilience, drive, tenacity and self-awareness, as well as academic outcomes and processes like metacognition. For example, research by the Sutton Trust shows that 97% of teachers, 94% of employers and 88% of young people believe that life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication are as or more important than academic qualifications.

Find out more about our work and impact via our latest Impact Report.

Why Oracy Matters

Our Why Oracy Matters report is the ESU’s latest contribution to the wider evidence base around oracy. Commissioned by the ESU and authored by Dr Jonathan Doherty, this report synthesises the evidence base and case for oracy across a range of disciplines. It is also packed with tangible take-aways, hints, tips and ideas for teachers to embed oracy into their everyday practice. We hope that this report is an excellent one-stop-shop for research and educators, helping them to make evidence-informed decisions about the oracy education happening in their settings.

The case for oracy is strong. A good oracy education has positive impact across educational attainment, school readiness, social mobility and into employment prospects. This report not only highlights the latest research in the field, but brings together some of the current models of oracy education, including the ESU’s Four Key Skillsets, to demonstrate what is already working. By supporting teachers to be reflective in their own practice, the report also supports professional development and confidence for teaching staff – something we know is vitally needed.

Download the report to find out more. The ESU is also able to provide further support and guidance for schools looking to develop their oracy practice via our programmes.

A pupil expressing himself during an activity while his peer listens to him
97% of employers feel life skills such as communication are more important than academic qualifications

Life Lessons, The Sutton Trust, 2017

four key skill sets

All our teaching, resources and competitions are underpinned by four key verbal communication skill sets: reasoning and evidence; listening and response; expression and delivery and organisation and prioritisation. Targeted activities allow students to practice each skill, providing a clear and con­sistent framework for learning and assessment. This both enables teachers to track and measure progress and improves students’ attainment in other areas of the curriculum, as outlined below.

two children in blue sschool uniform presenting to class in a classroom
Discover Debating children
Three secondary school sitting around a table inside a classroom. One is reading from a book and the other is folding a paper.

Oracy skills developments across the curriculum

Cognitive skills such as concentration, memory, goal-setting and self-talk. These skills underpin students’ learning in all aspects of their lives, both in and out of school

Metacognitive skills, which help students evaluate ideas and to set goals and targets. Our peer-to-peer and self-assessment feedback culture also encourages students to self-evaluate and improve

Research skills, useful in all areas of academic and written work

Knowledge acquisition, deepening students’ understanding of the world and motivating them to retain and apply this information

Emotional and social skills, fostered through teamwork and turn-taking

Active listening, helping with summarising and paraphrasing as well as comprehension

Vocabulary acquisition, improving both comprehension and self-expression, written and oral

Three primary school pupils (a boy and two girls) sitting down and leaning forward on the desk inside a classroom.

Student participation. All students, including SEND students feel more confident in making contributions in class, and are less cowed by louder classmates

Structural skills, which help students write coherent essays and arguments and enable them to engage critically with the world outside the classroom

Confidence, helping quieter students to speak up more

Extension, helping more confident students to make higher quality or more meaningful contributions

A growth mindset. Students believe speaking in public is a skill anyone can learn, rather than an innate talent

Thanks to this skills-led approach, our resources can be applied across many different areas of the curriculum, at Key Stages 2 to 5, in subjects from maths and science to history, ICT and citizenship. Notably, our programmes can also be used to provide Ofsted with clear evidence of spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) education.

Assessment and progress

Many of the conventional methods of assessment in schools rely on evaluating students’ written work. However, our skills framework allows the four key skill sets to be isolated and evaluated, providing teachers (and students in self or peer-to-peer assessment) with a straightforward way of assessing dialogue and charting progress, and giving students clear, motivating metrics against which they can improve.

Team shot of primary school children (three girls and a boy) smiling with linked shoulders
Discover Debating children smiling

Our staff

Our programmes are delivered through a network of expert Oracy Leaders and Coaches, all of whom are trained by the ESU and are either experienced teachers, debaters or public speakers themselves. The ESU is committed to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people. All delivery staff are trained in child protection and have passed criminal record and Disclosure and Barring Service checks.

A female teacher and a female students sitting close to each other inside a classroom.

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