Partner School Focus: Easton CE School

In our Summer Term Partner School Focus, Clare Wellbourne, Assistant Head at Easton CE School, reflects on the why they prioritised oracy this year and their plans for the year to come.

How did you originally hear about Voice 21?

We had a ‘Year of Communication’ in 2016-17 during which we made a ‘Communication Commitment’ with the Communication Trust. This led to training for staff and the launch of Talkboost language groups in Early years and Key Stage 1. We saw a real excitement about the improvement in our children’s language skills and we were proud to win a Communication Trust ‘Shine a Light’ award at the end of the year.

During the year I attended an Oracy Development Day at School21 and we decided that Oracy would be a logical next step. I have participated in the Oracy Leaders Programme and we are also becoming a Partner School.

What are the main challenges that face your school?

We are a large school in inner city Bristol, serving a diverse population who have challenges with housing and poverty. Over 90% of the children are learning EAL and 65% of the children are Somali and many have parents whose own education was disrupted by war and displacement.

Our children are eager to learn, excited by finding out about the world and interested in current affairs and politics.

What did you decide to prioritise and why?

We decided to focus on changing our assemblies to the School21 model, giving children would have lots of opportunities to talk. This enabled us to raise the profile of talk with children and staff and to train staff by providing a structure for teaching oracy. We wrote year group and class assemblies and taught structures such as trios in these contexts. We were also able to teach the use of sentence stems and talking roles.

How and where did you implement change?

We put Oracy in our School Improvement plan and started the year with lots of staff training to ensure that people were clear about the purpose of Oracy and our strategy for the year. Appointing ‘champions’ in each key stage meant that teachers had good role models for how to incorporate Oracy into their teaching. We had regular opportunities for feedback and later in the year Amy Gaunt came to work with Year Group Leaders to plan units of work with oracy outcomes.

What impact has focusing on oracy had on your students so far? Have you faced any obstacles?

Children are much more aware of the benefits of being a confident speaker and are able to ‘talk about talking’. We have seen children grow in ability to speak in a variety of contexts, including in a large assembly. Teachers are more able to plan for talk so children are getting many more opportunities to learn through talk and to talk about their learning.

Our older children had already experienced years of a more traditional learning style and have taken longer to adapt to an Oracy approach, but they have enjoyed new contexts for talk in their topic work and in maths.

What evidence have you been able to gather about the impact of oracy on teaching and learning?

We have carried out a survey of child talk in the dinner hall using our School Council as researchers. We found that girls and boys are talking about different things and that everyone is talking about a wider range of topics. Qualitative research shows that children say that they are more confident talkers, and that their teachers are better at giving opportunities for talk. Children said, ‘My teacher has higher expectations about talk’, ‘Everyone gets a chance to talk’ and ‘Children can grow in confidence through talk’.

What have you learned from your own experience so far? What (if anything) would you do differently in the future?

We have made a lot of progress with Oracy, none of which would have been possible without the support and involvement of the senior leadership team. It was effective planning for a lot of staff training at the start of the year, making sure that everyone understood the theory and had time to see examples of good practice. Visits from School21 staff helped to give further inspiration at crucial points. Oracy is a substantially different way of teaching and the change should not be underestimated, but it has been worth it.

What next? How do you plan on building upon the work in oracy that you have already done?

We are two years into improving communication at school, and there is still work to be done. A priority for next year is to implement an assessment system for oracy that teachers can. We would also like to improve our teaching assistants’ knowledge of oracy and continue to increase the number of opportunities for topics to have oracy outcomes.

Find out more about our Partner School Programmes here.

Find our more about this year’s Speaking Summit here.

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