A spotlight on St James' Church of England Primary School

Oracy is a lifelong skill. To be able to get on in life you need to be able to communicate your needs.

St James’ Church of England Primary School, Lower Darwen is a value-driven school. The leadership team’s approach to school improvement is not based on “quick fixes”. Staff work hard to embed long-term change which builds on their existing knowledge and expertise. Here at Voice 21, we were excited to talk to Beccy Uttley, Acting Headteacher and SENCO, and Lynsey Bryan, Reception Teacher and Phonics Lead, about St James’ oracy journey and the impact that teaching oracy explicitly has had on their students.

The school serves an area of high deprivation and a significant proportion of students arrive at the school below age-related expectations in terms of language development. Noting a decline in spoken language and elevated levels of referrals for speech and language needs, St James’ joined Voice 21 to enhance the oracy work they had already been doing for two years. Working with Voice 21, Beccy and Lynsey noted, has “made us think a bit wider”

Phonics Teaching

Alongside establishing Discussion Guidelines for each class, a key step that St James’ has taken to embed oracy has been to focus on the teaching of phonics and early reading. As Lynsey explained, the school’s consistent approach to phonics teaching was designed in house and is bespoke to St James’:

We introduced something called ‘Asking the question’ … We’re just answering the question, so we’re not telling them how to spell it. So for instance, I was doing some writing with my reception class yesterday. And one student said to me, I’m writing the word ‘pick’, as in to pick something up. She said, is it ‘c’ as in cat, ‘k’ as in kitten, or ‘ck’ as in duck? All I said to her was ‘ck’ as in duck, and she went away, and then did it herself. So she’s actually using her knowledge … I’ve seen a real impact in years one and two, and I’m starting to see it in reception now. So I’m hoping to see a massive impact on writing and spelling, but then also the oracy side of it, because they’re actually in charge of their own learning. We can see the knowledge they already know … it’s working really well.

Guided Reading

Another key action the school has taken to embed oracy across their school has been to introduce more vocabulary and speaking opportunities into their approach to guided reading. Here Beccy explains:

Quite a lot of our children come from very deprived backgrounds … they don’t really own very many books at all, and books aren’t a normal thing in their house. So it’s about making them want to read and encouraging that love of reading. 

In year two to year six, teachers model oracy by using a structured and consistent approach that avoids students encountering texts “cold”:

By day three, they’ve heard [the text] twice. They’ve heard the pronunciation of those more unfamiliar words … the gist of the story … all that vocabulary. It’s a bit like a pre-teach but for each text. And then you explore it … So you’ve done all that getting over the scariness of the new text and the reading in those first few days by talking about it, by exploring it, by looking at that vocabulary. 

This approach has had a “knock-on effect” on students’ reading and willingness to talk across the curriculum. Here a history lesson with an oracy outcome is described:

They did an oracy outcome for history before half term. And it was about the Battle of Britain and looking at World War Two. They had to do an oral outcome for a presentation. Some of the children in the class who before would almost shrivel up were standing there presenting confidently and not only using the vocabulary that comes from history but also using it in the right context.


Oracy has not only become a central focus in the classroom but can also be found outside the classroom during lunchtimes. Beccy told us:

This year’s Champions have introduced something called ‘Dine and Dialogue’, which is a lunchtime initiative. So, around the school serving hatch, there are sentence stems. The children are prompted to speak in full sentences when getting their dinner … They also have on the interactive whiteboard a question or piece of music or piece of artwork with key questions that they discuss, and the welfare staff are encouraged to talk with them about that. 

Successes and Next Steps

St James’ has experienced several successes on their oracy journey so far. Increased staff and student confidence has been a key success:

That came through in our benchmarking report, if you look at the start of the year, and the end of the year for pupils, but also for staff as well, the actual number of children who were reporting more confidence in whole class speaking, in group speaking, has definitely increased over time, but also the willingness of them to be involved, even if they didn’t see themselves as being very good communicators, they were actually willing to have a go. 

Another success has been the amount of buy-in, understanding of oracy, and “shared appreciation” among staff.

When asked what’s next for oracy at St James’, Beccy and Lynsey told us that their next steps focus on impact and quantitatively evidencing the impact of the oracy work going on in their school. Taking part in Voice 21’s Comparing Talk project, they hope to move away from talking about impact in an “anecdotal” way. “We want to look at the actual numerical impact or quantitative impact … The next step is how do we show and measure the progress?” 

Top Tips

We asked Beccy and Lynsey what advice they would give to a school just about to start their oracy journey with Voice 21. Their top tips are summarised below:

  • Be consistent in your approach and “don’t do it if you don’t want to follow it through”.

  • Ensure staff buy-in and that everybody is involved

  • Ensure you have the support of school leadership, “a leader who is dedicated to the cause”.

  • Put the work in and don’t expect to see results straight away: “It doesn’t work unless you put some graft in, and you won’t see the impact straight away”.

To sum up, Beccy stated: “Don’t go into it thinking it’s a quick fix, don’t go into it just thinking it’s a box tick … It needs to be embedded within the whole school, in everything that you do”.

We appreciate Beccy and Lynsey taking the time to share their oracy successes with us here at Voice 21. We look forward to working with St James’ as they continue to ensure that every child in their school has access to a high-quality oracy education.

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