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Home > News and views > Oracy matters

Oracy matters

Find out how the English-Speaking Union can support oracy in your school with our free webinars

Oracy is not something that can sit on the margins. After the last year and a half, when so much schooling has had to happen at home, there’s no question that oracy skills are more important than ever before.

A language-rich learning environment is vital – the quality of communication and the use of talk and language to develop thinking, knowledge and understanding is key to good classroom practice. Supporting teachers across their career to ensure these skills are part of their pedagogical repertoire is key, as is providing students with opportunities to develop and test these skills.

Join the ESU this September in its free webinar series to find out how your school, teachers and students can engage in activities that support oracy: both within the classroom and beyond. Read on to see why schools across the UK work with the ESU, and how using its resources and competitions are key ways to enrich teaching and learning and to help students learn to and through talk.

  • Oracy is a springboard to academic and employment success and boosts social mobility
    As the Sutton Trust reports, 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. Confident communication skills are vital both at interview and in the wider workplace and yet too many students are not given the opportunity to acquire them. ‘The majority of students in our debating society are pupil premium,’ says a teacher at The Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls in Romford. ‘This is a group that traditionally would underperform, but since their involvement in the society their grades have flourished. They now understand the power of language and can use it in their written work. Most importantly these same students accompanied us on the trip to Anglia Ruskin University. It was incredibly refreshing to see these pupils mingling with students from grammar schools. Previously this would have been daunting, but debating has taught them that oracy can be used to empower and bridge social gaps.’

 

  • Injecting oracy culture into teaching and learning 
    Engaging in ESU competitions led St. Mark’s School in Hounslow to look more holistically at its approach to oracy in the classroom.‘Seeing the growing success our students were having in oracy competitions, we decided to inject this oracy culture into our teaching curriculum. In English at Year 8, a new unit has been created with the sole focus of teaching students how to debate, utilising the skills of reasoning and evidence, listening and response, structure and style. Additionally in Year 9, we have created a unit titled ‘The Art of Rhetoric’ where students develop their skills and are encouraged to experiment with debate and argument through a vast array of topics. It is now becoming part and parcel of subjects such as biology and even maths to engage in ‘debate’ as part of teaching. Equipping students with oracy skills has unlocked their voices and allowed them to push boundaries in their learning in ways they could never do before.’

 

  • There’s a ripple effect
    Schools’ engagement with the ESU has far-reaching benefits – whether taking ideas to support primary transition programmes, having the confidence to create local competitions or simply sharing ideas with other teachers across the country – our programmes are often the springboard for sustainable initiatives. Archbishop Beck Catholic College, Liverpool, is a case in point. Its most recent team (finalists in the ESU-Churchill Public Speaking competition) comprised entirely students who started using their oracy skills in its partner primary schools programme.

 

  • Students gain more confidence in themselves and their ideas
    Speaking and listening are skills like any other and so it stands to reason that, when these are practised regularly, students reap the benefits, growing in confidence and self-belief. Having the ability to speak up and believe in yourself has also been shown to enhance our sense of happiness and well-being, preventing the isolation that comes from feeling side-lined. As a teacher at Eden Boys’ School, Bolton, reports, ‘Oracy skills have given students a voice as they are able to express themselves more clearly. They can voice their opinion better and they feel like they are being heard.’ Staff at Archbishop Beck Catholic College, Liverpool, agree: ‘In the social environment where we are located we face many challenges, one of which is the lack of self-esteem often associated with schools such as ours. Public speaking was at first seen as something “those other schools did”, but not anymore. Parents, staff and students see that the effort put in is really worthwhile and that high academic achievement is completely possible.’

 

  • Lessons become more interesting 
    All lessons are better when students are actively engaged, listening, evaluating and, most importantly, questioning. These are all skills that oracy teaches. ‘Oracy has empowered students to better understand themselves, each other and the world around them. Through being able to effectively express themselves, students feel more confident and their performance has improved across a range of subjects.  Through oracy, they are able to successfully contribute to class discussions in all subjects.’ (Eden Boys’ School, Bolton)

 

  • It can be incredibly simple
    Whether you choose to take a first step by incorporating some talk-based activities into your lessons, or take part in one of the ESU’s competitions (in public speaking, debating and performing Shakespeare) we have a wealth of resources to help you.  We provide lesson plans, oracy games and videos, as well as debate topics, format guides and top tips, all based around the ESU’s own four oracy skill sets: Reasoning and Evidence; Listening and Response; Expression and Delivery; Organisation and Prioritisation.‘What really makes the ESU stand out is the level of thought and care they put into their work. Every competition is planned meticulously and thoughtfully, with a plethora of useful resources provided to help both teachers and students get to grips with what the competitions involve, as well as building on their debating and performance skills.’ (Victoria Ward, Acting Head of Year 7, Dame Allan’s School, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne)

So just how can you incorporate oracy into your classroom or your school as a whole? Happily, as we hope we’ve shown above, there are many ways. Whether it’s through student engagement in assemblies, presentations, debate or drama clubs and competitions, or in lessons, the ESU offers a wealth of oracy resources, mentor support and CPD and runs competitions in public speaking, debating and performing Shakespeare. If you’d like to find out more, please do join us for one of our forthcoming webinars:

Webinar 1: Building your secondary school oracy culture with the ESU – Wed 15 Sep 2021 at 16.00 hrs 

Webinar 2: Boosting your students’ oracy skills with the ESU’s secondary school competitions – Thu 23 Sep 2021 at 1600 hrs 

You can also sign up to our education newsletter here.

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