Announcing the Douglas Barnes Prize for oracy classroom research

June 2020

Voice 21 is delighted to announce a new award for oracy classroom research, the Douglas Barnes Prize. The prize, jointly judged with Oracy Cambridge, will be awarded annually to a teacher from our network for the most innovative, reflective and well-designed classroom research into oracy teaching and learning. 

All teachers should be aware that the patterns of spoken communication they set up in lessons have a profound effect on what is learnt and on how pupils view their task as learners.

Douglas Barnes

Inspired by academic and researcher Douglas Barnes, this prize will celebrate the achievement of teachers who, following in Barnes’ footsteps, use their classroom to carry out small-scale research which furthers understanding of oracy.

“Douglas Barnes’ seminal work on classroom talk has shaped the field of oracy education and is fundamental to Voice 21’s approach; we are therefore honoured to have his name associated with this prize.  

As Douglas’s ideas and theories grew out of small-scale classroom research and observations, it is fitting that this award will identify and celebrate teachers who through analysis, innovation and reflective practice in their own classrooms, contribute to furthering understanding of high quality oracy education.”

Beccy Earnshaw, Director of Voice 21

The kinds of investigations that teachers carry out on this programme are really valuable for gaining insights into how oracy education works and how evidence can be used to support good practice.

Professor Neil Mercer, Director of Oracy Cambridge

The judging panel was  made up of representatives from Voice 21 and Oracy Cambridge. The judging criteria for the award can be found below.

This year’s prize was awarded to Rachel Mayes, a participant on the National Oracy Leaders Programme 2019/20, on 2nd July 2020.


Winner of the Douglas Barnes Prize 2019/20

We are delighted to announce Rachel Mayes is the winner of this year’s Douglas Barnes Prize whose Impact Project exploring the explicit teaching of discussion skills was felt by the judges to be solidly grounded in relevant research with a strong research design. This enabled clear and thorough analyses which were well-illustrated by transcripts which, put together, has created an invaluable resource for teachers across the country to learn from her findings.

“During this project, when completing learning walks and speaking with colleagues, we started to see that students were contributing to discussions more than before and were adopting the discussion roles into their everyday speech…The culture of the school felt as though it had taken a step towards embracing oracy. We are still very much on our oracy journey at The Oaks and are very proud of our achievements so far.”


You can read Rachel’s impact project here. 

The judging panel would also like to recognise the work of Clio Chartres and David O’Connell whose Impact Projects have been highly commended. Clio’s study, which adapts skills from the Oracy Framework to develop peer feedback, was noted for its particularly innovative approach which was well-related to relevant research. David’s, which explores the role of talk in supporting thinking together in an early years foundation stage classroom, was highlighted for its strong research design and thoughtful analysis. You can read Clio’s project here, and David’s project here.

Judging criteria

Each Impact Project was assessed against three main criteria. 

Research design 

A good methodology clearly identifies and is able to capture the change you hope to see. This would include: 

  • A clear statement of the question or issues to be addressed by the research
  • A well-defined outcome(s).
  • A thoughtful choice of measures, which map closely to the outcome and are sufficiently reliable. 
  • Conclusions that are drawn from the evidence available and take into account any uncertainties or assumptions. 


An innovative Impact Project uses oracy teaching to address the particular challenges of the Oracy Leader’s classroom in a new way, or brings together existing ideas in a different way. This means that: 

  • The project takes account of relevant prior research on the topic
  • There is a clear, evidence-led rationale for why a particular approach has been chosen. 
  • Changes in practice are directly linked to the problem that you wish to address. 
  • The approach taken is creative, and will spark new thinking about an area of oracy practice. 


The Oracy Leader demonstrates the ability to think critically and reflect on their findings. They will: 

  • Consider the reasons why something has or hasn’t worked and demonstrate a curiosity in exploring why this might be the case.
  • Use their findings to reflect on the implications for their future practice. 
  • Consider how their Impact Project can support others can learn from their findings.
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