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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 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 for example. 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. For example, recent 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.

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

Debate and public speaking boost:

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

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 children smiling with linked shoulders

Our staff

Our programmes are delivered through a network of mentors, coaches and trainers, all of whom are trained by the ESU and all of whom 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.

The oracy network

In 2016 the ESU and Voice 21, launched the Oracy Network which seeks to raise the profile of oracy in schools across the UK.

It exists to:

– amplify the status of speaking and listening skills in the school curriculum

– support oracy education in schools by facilitating the sharing of good practice, resources and research related to oracy

– use combined resources to lobby relevant bodies, with the objective of ensuring that the importance of oracy in education is reflected policy making and curriculum development. Find out more about the Oracy Network here.

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