New network aims to strengthen learners’ speaking skills

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New network aims to strengthen learners’ speaking skills

Poor speaking skills are undermining learners’ ability to compete in the jobs market, according to new research.

Voice 21, which promotes communications skills among young people across the UK, and the English Speaking Union, an education charity, have released two new reports, which they say present a compelling case for strengthening the focus on speaking and listening development in schools.

The reports – Oracy: the state of speaking in our schools from Voice 21 and Speaking frankly: the case for oracy in the curriculum from the English Speaking Union – have been released alongside the launch of the new Oracy Network.

The network, led by Voice 21 and the English Speaking Union, aims to ‘change the status of talk’ in schools by campaigning for a greater emphasis on teaching all children and young people proficient spoken communication skills. According to the network, this will improve social mobility, employability, educational achievement and wellbeing.

Voice 21 says the majority of teachers and school leaders in the state sector think oracy is as important as traditional areas such as literacy and numeracy. However, the organisation adds that only a minority of schools are consistently providing meaningful opportunities for students to develop these skills.

The Voice 21 research, authored by the education think tank LKMco, identifies that teachers in independent schools are significantly more likely than practitioners in state schools to feel oracy contributes ‘a great deal’ to their pupils’ linguistic development. Independent schools are also much more likely to have debate clubs, engage with external organisations to support oracy and to communicate with parents about the quality of their pupils’ verbal contributions in lessons.

Despite the evidence in support of oracy, teachers identified a number of barriers to sustaining a consistent and comprehensive approach in their schools, including:

  • a lack of time
  • anxiety that shy and unconfident pupils might struggle, or that pupils’ behaviour will get worse
  • priority being given to other tasks – in particular pupils’ writing
  • a lack of confidence and expertise, exacerbated by a paucity of training
  • perceptions that oracy is only occasionally relevant when teaching, or relevant only in certain subjects such as English
  • a lack of active support from school leadership

Beccy Earnshaw, Director of Voice 21, said: “Despite a wealth of evidence from educators, academics, economists and employers as to the importance of oracy, it currently has meagre status within our education system.

“It is clear from the research that there is an appetite from schools and teachers for more time for talk, support for speaking and resources for rhetoric. 

“If we are truly committed to empowering every young person regardless of their background, with the belief that their voice has value and the ability to articulate their thoughts so others will listen, then it is time to get talking in class.”

ASDAN’s English Short Course, which accredits up to 60 hours of English language and literature activities, contains a module dedicated to improving learners’ speaking and listening skills. This engaging and flexible course contains challenges including:

  • Take part in a series of 60 second presentations using random topics chosen from a lucky dip. Do this in pairs and swap partners for each new topic that you talk about
  • Watch an oral presentation and evaluate it including good and bad points. Explain your views to another person
  • In a group, decide on, prepare material for and participate in a discussion of 10-15 minutes about an ethical or moral issue; how to improve an activity you have been involved in; ?a change you would like to see

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