As well as being our tireless Taunton & Somerset PSC Coordinator, Kat is a Teacher of English and Media Literacy Lead at The Taunton Academy, a medium-sized secondary school in an area of high pupil-premium students. The school is the reigning champion in the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition, a competition in which Kat herself once took part. Here she tells us a little more about herself and her involvement with the ESU.
When did you first hear about the ESU?
I competed in the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking Competition during my own school days. I spoke on ‘Has Feminism had its day?’ at the South West regional finals where I was awarded Best Speaker. We reached the national finals where I had to speak on ecommerce – this was not quite so successful!
How and why did you become involved with it again?
As a teacher, I returned to my home town where the local branch of the ESU organised an event to promote the competition for the local schools – such a valuable way of advertising. I jumped at the chance to be involved in a competition that I had so much enjoyed because I could see how important it could be for my students.
Tell us a little about what you do for the ESU and why?
My involvement with the ESU and public speaking has, happily, grown. First, I was a coach for a team at my school. I was then asked by the Taunton branch of the ESU to coordinate the logistics of the local heats, and I now act as a Zoom host for the online rounds. My journey continues as I hope to move into a more educational lead/advisory role with developing oracy materials for schools.
What are you getting out if it?
I love working in conjunction with a charity that places so much value on oracy as a means of social mobility and self-advocacy. The exposure to the topics and quality discussion that I had during my formative years, through the ESU, gave a platform for self-awareness as well as a sense of confidence that my experiences and my opinions mattered.
How do you approach oracy skills in the school?
This is a tricky one and will be felt across the country by teachers everywhere. Even though we know and value the importance of oracy skills there is a current mismatch between this and how it is valued by exam boards, the dreaded league table and therefore educational institutions. This is something that is beginning to shift and must continue to do so; we know how integral oracy skills are to improved opportunities and social mobility. One of the simplest measures that can happen in class is the explicit teaching of vocabulary and modelling the language for learning that we expect – as the Speak for Change All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry reports: ‘of the children who persistently experienced poverty, 75% arrive at school below average in language development’. The exposure to language and talk that we assume happens at home does not always occur and it falls upon schools to help bridge this gap.
How do you believe the ESU’s competitions are helping your and other students?
Our students are beginning to see that their voice is as valuable as anyone else’s and that they should continue to develop their thinking skills. Oracy is the driving factor of language acquisition, literacy and subsequently, effective access to the world around them.
Whom do you admire and why?
The journalist and author Caitlin Moran. She has used her voice to raise the voices of others who have had their identities and experiences marginalised. She is a prime example of how finding one’s voice is key to representing yourself and others. She is also hilarious.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
Staying up late, drinking pink gin and watching movies.
Tell us something surprising about you.
I grew up in Hong Kong and am Eurasian. I constantly try to juggle the dichotomy of having two cultural identities and not fitting into a single specific identity; representation is crucial. I am trying to relearn the Cantonese that I have lost over the years so if there are any good Cantonese teachers who want to help me improve my oracy… please get in touch!
What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?
To be kind, to love unconditionally and find joy in all you do.