Newsome Academy - Voice 21

Head of English & Assistant Head Teacher for Teaching & Learning, Krystyna Stokes, explains their journey and what they have learnt.
“Working with Voice 21 has definitely been a journey and one that I would go full steam ahead into and I’m excited to continue this year… Oracy is now living and breathing within our school, you can walk into any classroom and see it!” 

Newsome Academy is an 11-16 comprehensive secondary school in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, with a passion for ensuring their students receive the best education possible, empowering them to succeed in school and in life. The school has a high number of students on Pupil Premium and in receipt of Free School Meals (39.8%) compared to the national average (19.7%). Since 2019 they have been on a journey to transform their school to improve their academic performance and opportunities for students. 

This is where their journey with Voice 21 began. 

Championing their students’ ability to articulate themselves 

For Krystyna, when she joined the school in 2019 one of the key areas she believed that they should focus on was “the students’ confidence and their ability to articulate what they want to say and what they mean. This was the moment that Voice 21 was there to provide a solution to the challenges they faced in the school. “As soon as I was introduced to Voice 21 I was 100% behind it as were the SLT and Headteacher, Dean Watkin, and in the school, it’s been phenomenal!”

Preparing their students to not only achieve their potential in exams but also in the wider world of work is a core component of what teachers do at Newsome Academy. Becoming a Voice 21 Oracy School allowed them to focus on students’ voice by embedding structured and purposeful talk in their classrooms, corridors and community.  “It fits with our vision for our school to ensure that students have the confidence and ability to use their voice ready for the wider world of work.” 

What has helped embed oracy across the school is the belief in its importance across the curriculum. “Our Oracy Lead, Hannah Leech, is actually a science teacher and as I am from the English department we wanted someone to lead oracy from another area of the school.” The cross-curricular nature of the oracy leadership team at the school has enabled the school to have talk-rich lessons across all year groups and subject areas. Hannah led presentations alongside other science teachers who all used Voice 21 strategies who all then supported and promoted the STEM presentations in front of parents in the finale. As Krystyna went on to explain their Oracy Lead “led Key Stage 3 STEM presentations which we invited parents to attend and the students stood up and shared their model designed to save the planet. It was an amazing achievement and it is fantastic to see someone leading  on our oracy at the school who isn’t from a subject that is traditionally associated with it.” 

It is important that every classroom was living and breathing oracy. Rather than introducing oracy as an add-on to their current provision in school, Krystyna was determined to ensure that it was embedded across the whole school now and for the future. “I didn’t want Voice 21 to be a quick add-on that the staff felt that they had to add onto something they were already doing. I wanted it to be organic and something that has a purpose that staff could really relate to and understand its importance.” In practice, this meant from the very beginning the school heavily invested in training and CPD for staff. They began by introducing the Oracy Benchmarks, launching it to the staff at an event in February prior to lockdown as well as a second launch in the summer when all the students were back in school. 

A safe environment for students to feel confident 

There is no doubt that the difference that oracy has made is now being felt. For Krystyna, she is seeing examples of students becoming more confident using their voice and their ability to talk every day. This morning I asked students to tell me about the book we had been covering and the plot so far and straight away with absolute confidence in front of 100 students one came to the front and was able to share it with everyone. A few weeks ago that wouldn’t have happened but because we were in an environment and a culture and that is creating that culture and a safe environment for students to feel confident the students now feel like they’re given an opportunity to have a voice.” 

It is these opportunities that students now relish and actively seek because they feel confident that their teachers value their voice. Each week at the school’s key concept seminar the students get the chance to deliver a speech on a key theme. These additional opportunities for talk, coupled with learning to talk and through talk in the classroom, have meant that students are asked to deliver their own sessions and as Krystyna highlights “for a 13/14-year-old to turn around and say ‘can I deliver a seminar to each year group’ is fantastic!”

An impact beyond oracy

There is no denying that Newsome Academy has been on a journey as a Voice 21 Oracy School but it is one that “I would probably go full steam ahead into and I’m excited to continue this year.” 

For Krystyna, it is important that everyone in the school can appreciate that there is a gap for a high-quality oracy education in their school and it is something that can empower students. She has noticed that it has had a clear impact “not just on our students’ oracy skills but also in their writing, confidence and attitudes within the school and it has been an absolute pleasure to see it unravel.”

From the governors to the teachers, everyone is so invested in ensuring that our students receive a high-quality oracy education and it is a journey that the whole school as a community is on together.” Now when visitors walk around the school they notice oracy in every classroom. This is not something they plan for any more, rather it is now living in each classroom in the school. 

As they begin to look ahead to 2022 there are some key priorities that the school is working on and with the help of their Oracy Consultant are excited to achieve. “We are looking at the culture and opportunities our students have to talk outside the classroom. We’re also doing curriculum mapping and sequencing at the moment across all subject areas in the curriculum. Our Oracy Champion has elected staff from across subjects to have oracy as part of their professional development so we have someone responsible for oracy in each department.” 

As Newsome Academy continues to develop oracy and work towards achieving the School Oracy Benchmarks the staff are continuing to learn. With the students they serve at the heart of it all. We look forward to seeing how they continue to champion this going forward!

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