Spotlight School: Boothroyd Primary Academy, West Yorkshire

 Putting their children at the heart of the curriculum has been a vital driver at Boothroyd Primary School. Central to this has been developing oracy in the classrooms, corridors and across the school. Here we speak with Holly Dyson, Oracy Lead, about their oracy journey. 

“I believe oracy skills are vital in life, with corridors of power in this country dominated by oracy, any position of power or privilege is dominated by your ability to speak and advocate for yourself and others too.”

Boothroyd Primary Academy serves the community of Dewsbury in West Yorkshire supporting children from reception through to year six to value every voice every day. The children who attend the school are from a wide variety of backgrounds with a large proportion of children who speak English as an additional language. But as Oracy Lead, Holly Dyson, shares this is both a challenge and an exciting opportunity to celebrate. 

“The children who join us at school tend to be below national standards for reading and writing but we feel like we have so much to celebrate here. It is almost a strength that the children we work with have so many languages because in terms of oracy it is just brilliant!”

If they can’t speak it, how can they write it?

When the teachers at Boothroyd began to invest in oracy and began their journey with Voice 21 they all understood that they needed to connect the missing link their EAL students experienced between grammar, reading and writing. What they recognised that oracy could be that missing link.  

“We found that through allowing our children to verbalise what they were working on really helped.”

As the Oracy Lead, Holly was passionate about ensuring that speaking was embedded within the curriculum. Having seen first-hand the impact of the disappearance of the spoken language assessment for GCSE students, when she transitioned roles to become a primary school teacher, she wanted to ensure that there was a place where children could feel confident to speak. 

“As a primary teacher to prepare students for lifelong learning I believe oracy skills are vital… Any position of power is dominated by your ability to and advocate for yourself and others too. As well, the impact of the pandemic, which I am sure lots of schools will agree with, has meant that speaking and listening gaps have become even wider.”

This passion and belief in developing the children’s ability to build meaningful connections with one another provided the springboard for oracy at the school. “We really feel that we’ve built the foundations for oracy with Voice 21, and we felt further compelled to embed this in the curriculum to transform it.”

“When I walked the corridors recently, I could just hear the buzz of language and quality of oracy.”

Now when Holly walks the corridors, she can hear the transformative effects oracy is having right across the school. Hearing conversations in class between teachers and pupils, and peer to peer interactions has ignited her passion that Boothroyd is becoming an oracy school.

One Year 6 pupil in the school said: I feel confident in class discussions and when I participate, I feel braver because my teachers support me, and class is a kind and respectful place to be.” This is reflected across the school and is a real testament to the hard work being put in across classrooms.

This achievement hasn’t been taken lightly. Teachers have always had one group in mind, the children. “I think first and foremost we wanted the children to have the power to advocate for themselves, speak to others and really listen to one another. We want all of our children to be able to navigate the modern world and to have the confidence and self-esteem to do that.”

It is this passion for their student’s well-being that drives a lot of the schools work around oracy. Holly and teachers from Reception to Year 6 believe that without having a voice, a conversation and the ability to speak up that their children would really struggle with their mental health and well-being and “those skills are really vital”.

But what about the teachers’ experiences introducing oracy?

It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of all staff at Boothroyd Primary Academy that the impact of introducing a high-quality oracy education is being felt across the school. For teachers they can elevate learning across each subject and year group, and as Holly explained oracy “gives them a toolkit that can be applied across the curriculum but also used as a reflective tool.”

The whole staff team at the school have pulled together to ensure that oracy is a priority across the curriculum. But what does this look like in practise? For Holly, “the sky’s the limit, teachers can be creative and discover new things that work within a lesson and with our amazing team the limit doesn’t exist! 

When talking to teachers at the school there have been a few Voice 21 tools that they have embedded and refer to regularly. “What has had the most success is Talk Guidelines and the use of sentence stems within the classrooms. By also using the Add, Build and Challenge approach I am hearing my children actually proving that they are listening to each other.”

One student also shared their favourite oracy tool which their teacher has introduced. “It helps with my oracy when we speak and do things like a dictogloss because you can memorise more instead of just reading.”

Using these techniques have become “almost automatic” that the children are saying I’d like to add to their point, I’d like to challenge what they are saying, Well, I think differently Miss because. Sometimes I have to pinch myself because sometimes the simplest tools are the most effective.”

What is next for oracy at Boothroyd Primary Academy?

As the school continues to strengthen its oracy practise the Voice 21 team, like with each of our members, is going to be there every step of the way. For Holly as Oracy Lead this is incredibly important. “I feel like part of an oracy network who are all passionate about improving the outcomes for children.”

Going forward the school this year is looking to focus their efforts on sharing their oracy skills and tools with their community. By introducing a series of strategies that can be shared with parents to get them involved in oracy from sentence stems to take home to reading activities. 

We have also just set up a school radio beginning with the Year 6 children to give them a platform to have a discussion about something they are interested in. 

For Boothroyd Primary School what continues to drive these new opportunities is their determination to ensure each child at the school has a space to learn to talk and through talk. We at Voice 21 are looking forward to continuing to support them on this journey.  

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