Announcing The Oracy Teacher of the Year Award

Voice 21 CEO, Rebecca Earnshaw

It is the 1 July, in a school in England’s second city. A hall packed with teachers from across the nation waits in nervous anticipation as the envelope is opened, and we discover who receives the crown as the very first Voice 21 Oracy Teacher of the Year!  

Last week, Voice 21 launched a search for the teacher that deserved to be named our Oracy Teacher of the Year in recognition of their commitment to and expertise in teaching oracy. This award, in association with Oxford University Press,  feels like a big moment for Voice 21. From our very beginnings six years ago, we set out to ‘build a movement of oracy teachers acting as the frontline in improving the speaking and listening skills of students in state schools.

We knew that increasing access to high-quality oracy education and ensuring that oracy gained the status it deserves (an ongoing struggle!) starts and ends with teachers. 

As our 2016 ‘State of Speaking report’ found, most teachers believed that oracy is essential for their students but were not confident about delivering a high-quality oracy education. Only a small minority of teachers had received professional development on oracy, and in most schools, there was no one with named responsibility for speaking and listening. 

It has always been our view that oracy is every teacher’s responsibility and every child’s entitlement. Still, without champions, specialists and leaders, oracy is at risk of being everywhere and nowhere in our schools. That is why in 2017, Voice 21 launched our inaugural Oracy Leaders programme in partnership with Cambridge University. The programme aimed to create an alternative development route for teachers to become leaders of oracy across their schools. 

“The level of support, expertise and shared passion from the leadership team has been incredible resulting in increased passion, knowledge and enthusiasm from me! The impact across our school in only a year has been incredible.” – National Oracy Leader, 2017

Hot on the heels of Oracy Leaders, in 2018, the Oracy Teacher Development Programme was created (later called Oracy Pioneers). This programme, focussing on becoming an expert oracy classroom practitioner, demonstrated the demand for professional development in oracy with courses running in every region and across LAs, MATs and school networks from Plymouth to Dundee.  

“I think if I could do nothing else for the children I teach, it would be that they leave able to articulate their needs and their opinions in a rational way. So they can be understood and they can engage with the world.”- Teacher, Oracy Pioneers Programme

Teachers create the culture of their classroom and based on their students’ needs they make daily choices about what to teach and how to teach it. Over the last five years, Voice 21 has supported over 10,000 teachers from over 1,200 schools. 

We used the insights we gained from seeing what these teachers do in their schools and how they make a difference to inform the Voice 21 Teacher Oracy Benchmarks (published in 2019). The Benchmarks define excellent classroom practice for oracy, providing a framework to identify, guide and empower teachers who are developing and refining their oracy practice.

Now, through our Voice 21 Oracy Schools Programme, we are privileged to see the impact of skilled, dedicated and motivated oracy teachers on students’ learning and outcomes in over 600 schools working in a wide variety of contexts – from small rural primary schools in Cumbria to large secondaries in Central London. The shared belief of teachers in the value of every student’s voice and their commitment to enabling every child to use their voice for success in school and life acts as a golden thread weaving through our network.  

This award, therefore, feels like an important milestone for all of us at Voice 21. With teachers’ extraordinary ingenuity and dedication in supporting children and young people to keep interacting, talking and engaging throughout the pandemic, recognition has never been more deserved. 

Beyond Voice 21, the fact we can even hold an award like this represents how the ripples of the increased status of oracy teaching have impacted our education system. Back in 2015, a call for nominations for the Oracy Teacher of the Year Award would have been met with tumbleweed! Now adverts for oracy teachers regularly feature on the recruitment pages of the TES and the shift in status can be seen in the focus on spoken language in the new Leading Literacy NPQ and recent Ofsted English Curriculum review. 

So if your school has an outstanding oracy teacher get nominating now. Or if you think you should be our Oracy Teacher of the year speak up – as we say in my native North East, ‘shy bairns get nowt!’  To be in the room for the big reveal, join us at the Great Oracy Exhibition on 1 July at Saltley Academy, part of Washwood Heath Multi Academy Trust, in Birmingham. Click here to buy your tickets.

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