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Home > News and views > Researching Oracy at the ESU

Researching Oracy at the ESU

A female teacher and a girl pupil sitting down inside a classroom. The pupil is speaking to the teacher and holding a little teddy bear in her hand.


The field of educational research is vast! There are countless academics, thinktanks and third sector bodies contributing to education research across a range of disciplines. And there is even the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), a government-supported ‘what works’ agency conducting and collating research to support schools to know which interventions may work for them. 

The EEF has a whole section in their Teaching and Learning Toolkit on Oral Language Interventions, demonstrating that these have high impact for relatively low cost. This means that schools can feel relatively secure in using oracy interventions as part of their Pupil Premium or school funding spend, knowing that this is likely to have a positive impact on their learners. But despite some excellent research from the EEF and others, there is still a need for current, practical research to ensure schools have the information they need to make informed decisions about the interventions they decide to use in their schools. 


ESU Research Programmes 

At the ESU we have a growing range of innovative and diverse oracy education research programmes. This reflects the education research landscape, and how there is a need to marry academic research with the practical. Each year we work with teachers and schools to trial, test and explore different approaches to oracy, helping to build that ‘what works’ knowledgebase for education professionals. We also believe that this is an important part of continuing to advocate for the centrality of oracy in the curriculum, as schools and policy makes need to make evidenced-based decisions.  


The Walter Hines Page Scholarship 

For over 100 years, the ESU have supported education research. Our Walter Hines Page scholarship began in 1923, sending teachers to the USA on a cultural exchange. Previous Education Secretaries, eminent headteachers and education policy makers have been in receipt of the scholarship. Today, the research focusses on oracy or communications education, and the similarities or differences between the UK and US approaches. Recent topics include the teaching of race, citizenship or how oracy is used to support writing development.  

Find out more about this programme, and read past research reports 


ESU Action Research  

Launched in 2022, the ESU’s Action Research programme works with up to 20 state schools each year, supporting them to conduct their own piece of small-scale action research. Action research is a type of research increasingly gaining popularity in schools, and many teachers are required to take part in some form of action research as part of NPQH or leadership qualifications. At the ESU, we believe that this is a powerful way to support schools to test their own approaches. After all, schools know their context and their learners best, and each schools’ needs will vary. We will shortly be sharing some of the findings from Year 1, and if you would like to take part we close applications for the 2023-24 cohort on the 27 October! 


ESU Oracy Research Conference 

New for 2023 is the ESU’s inaugural Oracy Research Conference. This one-day event brings together our Walter Hines Page scholars, with Action Research Schools and other innovative research in the field. This year we will also be hearing from Travelling Light Theatre, who have just completed a research project exploring using drama and oracy in primary schools. We hope that this becomes an annual event, bringing together some of the latest national and international research into oracy to support schools and the wider public to understand more about this vital part of education. 


Other ESU research projects 

We also sometimes commission reports into oracy, and keep an eye out for an exciting new publication landing in November 2023! We work with universities to support PhD students, and contribute to other research underway, such as the Oracy APPG Speak for Change report. We also constantly evaluate and review our own programmes, to ensure that they are having the impact we want them to have, and improving social mobility and life changes for all through the power of oracy. 

If you would like to find out more about our research programmes, or if you have a proposal to partner with us on a piece of research, please contact our Head of Innovation Gavin Illsley. 

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