Merry Christmas from Voice 21

Voice 21 CEO, Beccy Earnshaw, shares her reflections on 2021 and hopes for the year ahead. Read her end of the year message and thanks to everyone who has supported us over the last year.

There is a sense of Deja Vu as we head into this festive season. Last Christmas, we were given the less than heartwarming news of the need for increased restrictions due to rising Covid cases and this year, we are back in the same position.  Reflecting on 2021, despite its undoubted challenges, disappointments and limitations, it is remarkable how much teachers, schools, and the organisations supporting them have achieved.  

Early last week, the Voice 21 team gathered at our new office (in a brand new school that didn’t exist until four months ago) to come together and plan for 2022. Travelling from all corners of England, the Voice 21 team is now truly national (enabled by the increased ability to work remotely) and almost doubled in size over this year. The new team members have joined to support the growing community of Voice 21 Oracy Schools (609 at the last count), schools across England and Wales that have committed to intentionally focus on oracy to improve learning and life chances for the students they serve. 

In spite of the disruption and distractions of this year, the difference made by Voice 21 Oracy Schools in 2021 is evident in our impact data and, perhaps most powerfully, the stories and testimonies from teachers and students.

“Without a doubt introducing oracy has been transformational… I credit lots of the changes we have seen down to our focus on oracy. It’s because of this that our students feel confident that they are being listened to and that they can articulate how they feel.” – Mel Carlin, Abbey MAT Oracy Lead

“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.” – Year 6 Pupil, Boothroyd Primary School

Every day Voice 21 Oracy Schools demonstrate how to embed high-quality oracy education in their classrooms, curriculum and culture.  Empowered by our courses and consultants and inspired by 40 editions of our weekly Talk on Tuesday resources, strategies and ideas, teachers in Voice 21 Oracy Schools have created the conditions for students to find their voice and meaningful contexts to use it. Engaging in the 8 online learning classrooms of the Voice 21 exchange covering topics from Harkness Discussions to Introducing Oracy, teachers have become oracy champions in their settings, increasing their expertise and confidence and cascading this to their colleagues.  By joining the enhanced programme of Voice 21 events on offer this year, teachers and school leaders from Cumbria to Cornwall have shared practice, made connections and seen for themselves what high-quality oracy education looks like in schools similar to their own.  Over October alone, over 1000 teachers set off on our Oracy Odyssey with their students to encounter opportunities for oral language development in their classroom and beyond. 

Never has this work been more important. As the analysis of the significant long term implications of school closures on our most disadvantaged children and young people has emerged, the need for high-quality oracy education for all has become more acute. 

In spring, MPs and Members of the House of Lords joined the call for more and better oracy education. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Oracy, chaired by Emma Hardy MP, published their two-year inquiry into the value, impact, and provision of oracy education in the UK. 

The Speak for Change report concluded that there is an indisputable case for oracy as an integral aspect of education and demanded a shift in educational culture and values, policy and practice to:

  1. Raise the status and priority of oracy in education
  2. Set out shared expectations for oracy across schools
  3. Equip and empower teachers and schools to develop their students’ oracy skills – providing them with the tools and resources they need to do this.

Since the Inquiry’s conclusion, the pressure from politicians has continued. The recent House of Lords Commission on Youth Unemployment reinforced the case for oracy, stating:

“We heard particularly compelling evidence on the value of oracy, the skill of oral communication. While there are provisions within the national curriculum for the development of the spoken language, research by the Centre for Education and Youth at the University of Oxford showed that 52% of young people believe they left or will leave school without the oracy skills needed for ongoing education, training or employment, compared to 72% of full-time students or young people in work”.

And this month, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy joined with the Speech and Language APPG to release a Joint Statement on the centrality of spoken language to developing literacy and numeracy skills. 

With experts highlighting the need for greater attention to oracy in evidence to influential inquiries such as The Times Education Commission, alongside the growing evidence-based on the efficacy of oral language interventions, the coming year could be pivotal for oracy policy. 

At Voice 21, we are gearing up for a bumper 2022. With a further 130+ schools joining our ranks in January, our partnership with the BBC on their centennial  ‘BBC 100 Share Your Story’ initiative, bigger-than-ever events programme (including the return of the Great Oracy Exhibition!), projects exploring issues including oracy & vocabulary development and oracy in Pupil Referral Units, and new opportunities for Voice 21 Oracy Schools to be recognised for their progress and take part in ground-breaking research on the assessment of oracy – we have lots of exciting developments on the way.  

Watch this space for more details, but for now, thank you for all your support for Voice 21 in 2021. Our impact is only possible through the commitment of our schools and the backing of our funders and supporters. This year, we were delighted to secure continued support for our mission from existing funders and welcome new funders to help us in delivering our 21-25 strategy. We look forward to working with you in 2022 to ensure that every child finds their voice for success regardless of their background and we hope you have a happy Christmas break full of cracking conversations! 

Beccy’s 2021 top-of-the-oracy-pops
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