Promising developments in speaking are starting in schools

There are some exciting advances right now, promoting learning though the use of speech and discussion in some forward-thinking schools in the UK. At the forefront, not only in emphasising speaking skills, but in developing a whole philosophy of learning through talk and discussion, is School 21 in East London.

School 21 describes itself as “a state-funded, non-selective 4-18 school in Stratford, East London. It is an innovative school, committed to doing things differently for the twenty-first century. The school supports its students to become articulate children who can take on the world, through dedicated oracy lessons and a culture of productive talking throughout the school.”

So what is Oracy? School 21 has teamed up with Cambridge University’s Education department for the further development of Oracy. They divide Oracy skills into 4 categories:-

Cognitive – the deliberate application of thought to what you are saying

Linguistic – knowing which words and phrases to use, and using them

Physical – making yourself heard, using your voice and body as an instrument

Social – engaging with the people around you; knowing you have the right to speak


“Oracy” really represents the set of talk skills that children, that people, should develop, in the same way that we would expect people to develop reading and writing skills. [It] sums up that teachable set of competencies to do with spoken language” Professor Neil Mercer Cambridge University Department of Education


The School is supported by the 21 Trust and Voice21.

“The 21 Trust creates education institutions and programmes designed to help children succeed in the 21st century.” Voice 21 is a campaign to raise the status of oracy in schools across the UK and get more talking into class. Voice 21 is working with schools across the UK to help develop the tools and resources to ensure every student is taught to communicate effectively. It believes that oracy, the ability to communicate effectively using spoken language, should have the same status as numeracy and literacy. Voice 21 is launching an inquiry, led by an independent Commission, to consider and make recommendations on the future of speaking within our education system.

Next time I’ll describe the inspiring day that my colleague Lisa Field and I spent at School 21.