Looking ahead to Unheard Voices, Lost Potential

As the UK’s national oracy charity, we are more than aware of how classroom dynamics or personalities can create louder and quieter roles for students in classrooms. Some students are shy, some are perhaps considered pensive or introspective – reluctant to vocalise their thoughts or opinions until they are sure of what they have to say. Often, the key to nurturing good classroom oracy practice can be recognising the different roles that students prefer to play in the classroom, and shaping their development around them.

On April 28, we will be exploring the issue of students who are quiet for reasons beyond shyness at Unheard Voices, Lost Potential, our annual conference. We want to investigate the many ways in which young people may go unheard at school and the knock-on impact this has on their learning and life chances. We will be exploring the role teachers can play in providing opportunities for different voices to be heard and valued in classroom conversations. 

The structure of the day’s sessions, workshops and discussion panels are focused on three key areas we’ve identified as important:

  1. Listening to unheard voices
  2. Raising voices through oracy
  3. Unlocking potential and transforming life chances. 

Here’s a flavour of some of the talks, panels and masterclasses taking place on the day.

Our headline speakers: Alastair Campbell & Neil Mercer

Alastair Campbell has long been a vocal advocate for state school education and firmly believes that all students, not the privileged few, deserve opportunities to 

develop their spoken language skills. His belief that young people’s voices are important and can make a difference, is one of the central messages in his new book But What Can I Do? Says Alastair of his motivation behind writing it; “Whenever I visit a school or college, or chat to fellow passengers on a train or plane, I sense so much energy, so much commitment, so much passion for better causes and ideas. I want to do my bit to help channel that somewhere good and positive. We need individuals with intelligence, courage, energy and ideas to enter elected politics. Because if we don’t achieve this, we’re condemning ourselves to drawing our politicians from an ever-narrowing gene pool.”

Alastair will be speaking to our CEO Beccy Earnshaw about the importance of oracy and spoken communication skills, and how we can help young people to become confident communicators and make a difference, not just in politics but in whatever path they choose.

Our other keynote speaker, Professor Neil Mercer, will be discussing the power of talk to address inequalities and increasing opportunities for all students. Neil is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, and Director of Oracy Cambridge. He has written a number of key works in the field of oracy, including Words and Minds, Exploring Talk in School, Dialogue and the Development of Children’s Thinking, Interthinking: putting talk to work and Language and the Joint Creation of Knowledge. His team at Oracy Cambridge also worked with Voice 21 to develop The Oracy Framework, a framework for gauging high-quality oracy education that is used in schools across the country and overseas.

Neil has long been a driving force in the development of oracy education in schools across the country, and especially for the benefits it provides for many of those students whose voices have gone unheard. Given that 75% of children who persistently experienced poverty arrive at school with below-average language development, Mercer implores us to keep in mind, “If they are not getting it in school, they are not getting it.”

Listening to unheard voices

Listen without prejudice: exploring language, identity and accent in education

Accent bias has been called one of the last forms of acceptable discrimination. It often goes unchecked, and these value judgments are closely tied to the perceptions of who people are, where they come from, their education levels, their socio-economic class and more. The Sutton Trust in their Speaking Up report,  highlighted the perceived notion among young people that there is a ‘right’ accent to have, and their worry that having the ‘wrong’ accent may impact their lives and their future careers. According to the report, 30% of university students and 29% of university applicants reported having been mocked, criticised or singled out in educational settings due to their accents. And this prejudice doesn’t stop once students leave the education system. As high as 46% of employees report higher levels of being mocked or singled out for their accent in a social setting.

At Unheard Voices, Lost Potential, you’ll be able to join Dr. Rebecca Montacute of the Sutton Trust, Dr. Richard Courtney from the University of East London, Dr. Ian Cushing from Edge Hill University and Dr. Khawla Badwan from Manchester Metropolitan University in a panel discussion about the interplay between accent, identity and language, exploring the detrimental ways that accent biases impact us all, and how we can learn to hear our students our and peers without prejudice.

Raising voices through oracy

From primary into secondary: how oracy can support students’ confidence, well-being and learning in transition

One particular finding in our 2021-22 Impact and Insights report was our understanding of how crucial a good quality oracy education is for students during the transition period between primary and secondary school.

Recent research from Professor Alice Deignan suggests that there is a ‘quantitative and qualitative step change in language’ at secondary school when compared to primary school, which may go some way in explaining the much-reported ‘academic dip’ during this transition. This is something Voice 21 has been working on tackling in our Voicing Vocabulary project, where we are pioneering an innovative oracy-rich approach to supporting vocabulary development in students with the kind of vocabulary that they need to thrive in secondary school.

We look forward to welcoming Professor Deignan, as well as Karl Cross of Barrowford Primary School and Vicki Duperouzel of Pendle Vale College, to discuss this research, and explore how oracy can be utilized in nurturing students through the challenging academic and social leap they face in year 7 and above. 

Unlocking potential and transforming life chances

Our final sessions continue the theme explored throughout the day of young people using their voices to make a difference. Conference attendees will have the opportunity to witness some inspiring examples of this in practice. In attending the ‘Find your voice, change the world: empowering young people through oracy’ session, you’ll hear from students who have successfully joined together to campaign for change in their local community. In ‘Amplifying girls’ voices through oracy’, we will be addressing the ways we can focus on the needs of girls in the classroom, and how teachers and educators can best amplify their voices so they are not needlessly left behind. Finally, you will have the opportunity to learn about the means and ways in which we can cultivate an environment in classrooms to enable those students who are more timid or shy to participate and still benefit from a high-quality oracy education while minimising or even avoiding student discomfort. Each of these enlightening sessions will be filled with useful and transformative tips for you to take back to your classroom and ensure that all students are supported and that no student is left behind by focusing closer on oracy within your curriculum.

For more information about what’s coming up at Unheard Voices, please follow the link: https://voice21.org/unheard-voices-lost-potential/

Check out our Member School Case Studies

Learn more about Unheard Voices, Lost Potential

Back to the Oracy Opinion

Share This

Recent news

Back to news

© 2022 Voice 21. Voice 21 is a registered charity in England and Wales. Charity number 1152672 | Company no. 08165798