Informed by the needs and aspirations of our schools: our plans for 2022

As we begin to look ahead to the rest of 2022 our Learning and Impact Director, Amy Gaunt shares our plans to ensure our work is informed by the needs and aspirations of the schools we're working with and how you can get involved.

Since our launch in 2015, Voice 21 has been on a mission to raise awareness of the vital importance of oracy education and equip teachers and school leaders with the knowledge and expertise to provide this. First came the development of the Oracy Framework, in conjunction with Oracy Cambridge, which demystified oracy, providing teachers with a firm understanding of the essential speaking and listening skills that every child should be taught.

Next, recognising that teachers and school leaders sometimes struggled to understand how to develop these skills in their students, we devised the Oracy Benchmarks, a practical guide to implementing oracy in any setting, outlining the active ingredients of a high-quality oracy education. More recently, we consolidated our range of programmes into one unified approach, Voice 21 Oracy Schools, through which we work with schools to meet these Oracy Benchmarks and achieve long-term, sustained change.

In articulating our final benchmark- is accountable for the impact of oracy- we sought to emphasise the importance of schools understanding and holding themselves to account for the effectiveness of their oracy provision. To achieve this benchmark, we want schools to ask themselves, is oracy making the difference we want it to make? This means knowing whether students are making progress in oracy and understanding how a school’s oracy provision is, or isn’t, supporting this.

In a system where there is little accountability for oracy, this is tricky. As highlighted by the Oracy APPG’s recent Speak for Change report, the ‘lack of focus and emphasis on spoken language across educational policy and currency in the qualifications system, the challenges of assessing oracy, and the pressures to meet external accountability targets disincentivises schools and teachers from giving it the attention they feel it deserves.’ In 2022, we are launching two exciting projects which will address some of these issues.

Firstly, we will support schools to better understand and celebrate the effectiveness of their oracy provision through the development of a Voice 21 accreditation which will recognise progress towards meeting the Oracy Benchmarks, identifying and celebrating schools that provide their students with a high-quality oracy education and signalling excellent practice in the system. Building on the work of Voice 21 Oracy Schools, our accreditation will raise the bar for oracy education higher, providing a clearly articulated standard for schools to work towards and the incentive to do this.  

Secondly, to know whether they are providing their students with a high-quality oracy education, schools must be able to pinpoint the impact of their provision on students’ oracy skills. Currently, there is no peer-reviewed standardised measure for oracy and so our schools rely on secondary measures or outcomes, such as attainment, behaviour or attendance to assess the impact of oracy. Over the next two years, we aim to produce a reliable oracy assessment which can be used across ages and stages, enabling schools to understand the impact of their provision on students’ oracy skills and monitor progress.

To do this, we will take advantage of new developments in assessment, as well as advances in technology by utilising a comparative judgment approach, which involves comparing a series of two pieces of work (in this case talk) side-by-side to establish a measurement scale. We will use this to create a framework for progression, accompanied by exemplar videos. Once we have piloted and refined this tool we will make it available beyond Voice 21 Oracy Schools, providing a valuable contribution to the education system. 

Over the next year, we’ll be talking to and consulting teachers across the country about these projects, ensuring our work is informed by the needs and aspirations of the schools we’re working with. If you have any thoughts on this or would like to be involved, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at hello@voice21.org. 

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