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Home > News and views > Why Oracy Matters

Why Oracy Matters

“The UK is facing a crisis in language and literacy”
Why Oracy Matters
A new report launched by the English-Speaking Union



The international education charity, the English-Speaking Union (ESU), has published a new research-based report on why oracy matters to the life chances of young people and why it should be at the heart of the national school curriculum.

It shows how the UK is facing a crisis in language and literacy that begins in the early years of schooling and leads to too many young people not attaining the necessary oracy or literacy skills before leaving school.


Research into oracy (the ability to talk confidently and learn through talk) has found that good language skills are crucial to social mobility, to school readiness and attainment and beyond school in further education and employment.

Report author Dr Jonathan Doherty says “The wealth of evidence about the value of oracy is compelling. Its contribution to teacher development and school improvements supports much-needed professional learning in education. And its impact on children’s life chances and their educational and personal outcomes is undeniable- staggering, even.”

The report outlines eight research-informed benefits of oracy education including how oracy improves cognitive development and academic achievement, how it can identify early language delays and how oracy can close the social disadvantage gap.

Dr Doherty stresses that oracy provides the modern skills employers want ‘England’s education system falls short in delivering the range of skills and competencies needed to prepare young people for future work and study. A significant number of employers believer labour market entrants are not properly prepared for the workforce. The UK compares poorly against other countries. Many young people leave schools and colleges without the basic literacy capabilities required and many of those who have them are failing to further develop the specialist knowledge and employability skills demanded by employers. Literacy (including oracy) proficiency is cited in most employer survey results.’

The report concludes that oracy, under the umbrella of literacy, is vital in the 21st century as part of a modern, diverse and equitable society. Oracy impacts significantly on educational attainment from Early Years through to post-compulsory education. It says, ‘good oracy skills are critical to break the link between language difficulties and social disadvantage.’

Annabel Thomas MacGregor, Director of Education at the English-Speaking Union said, ‘As widely evidenced, the pandemic has had a negative impact on the development of young people’s oracy and literacy skills, but the report compiled by Dr Doherty claims schools are well positioned to break this cycle and to make improvements. Our Oracy in Action programme and Discover Your Voice workshops are just two of the resources available to improve oracy and outcomes in schools.’

The report aims to be a learning resource for teachers and notes that ‘teachers at all phases report the value they place on oracy and considerable CPD is needed to re-prioritise oracy in schools.’

Dr Doherty presented the report at the ESU’s inaugural Oracy Research Conference held on Friday 3 November at Dartmouth House, London. Delegates heard from schools who are offering the English-Speaking Union’s oracy programmes, the Speaking Citizens team at the University of Sussex and Annabel Thomas MacGregor, ESU Director of Education.


Read Why Oracy Matters

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