Voice 21 response to Keir Starmer’s announcement on Labour’s policy to ensure all children are taught speaking skills (oracy) in school  - 6 July 2023

Voice 21, the UK’s national oracy education charity, warmly welcomes the Labour Party’s commitment to prioritise oracy as part of its mission for education. 

For too long the importance of oracy has been undervalued and overlooked in our education system. Rarely comprehensively or explicitly taught, the development of vital speaking skills is left to chance. This means that a majority of young people are denied the opportunity to learn how to articulate their ideas effectively and gain the confidence to use their voice – opportunities consistently afforded to a privileged few.

Labour’s plans give overdue recognition of the need to value every young person’s voice and make oracy education an entitlement for all.  

Poor oracy skills have a detrimental impact on a young person’s future life chances hampering their learning in school and prospects beyond school.  This September, over 200,000 children will start school below age-related expectations in language and communication. Left unaddressed, gaps between the most and least advantaged young people grow as they move through education. 

Just as speaking and listening are central to all aspects of our lives, they should be central to education too. This is why oracy must sit alongside literacy and numeracy as the essential building blocks of learning and the key to unlocking opportunity for children and young people. 

Extensive evidence shows that high-quality oracy education improves academic attainment, well-being, access to employment and social mobility. With 1 in 20 schools now part of Voice 21’s national schools’ network, we are seeing the transformative effects of oracy education every day in classrooms from Devon to Dundee.  

From these schools, we have learned that success in embedding oracy throughout education at all stages and phases requires:

  • Investment in teacher training and development in oracy to ensure every teacher has the skills and expertise required to develop their students’ oracy skills
  • The provision of rich opportunities for students to use their voice in a range of different contexts both in and beyond the classroom
  • Thoughtful planning and sequencing of oracy into the curriculum so that students get progressively better during their time at school
  • High-quality resources exemplify expectations for oracy across subjects 
  • Understanding of linguistic diversity and timely access to specialist support for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. 
  • The creation of meaningful forms of assessment, enabling teachers to understand their students’ progress in oracy

Responding to Labour’s plans, Alice Stott, Director of Schools at Voice 21 said:

“I am delighted to see oracy making an appearance on the political agenda at last. Speaking skills are as vital in the corridors and classrooms of our schools as they are in the committee rooms and chambers of Westminster.

“ For the last eight years, Voice 21 has been campaigning for oracy to get the status it deserves at the heart of education based on its fundamental importance and the strength of the evidence as to its efficacy.  It is high time to take speaking seriously in our schools. 

“Without action now, the ongoing effects of the pandemic lockdowns threaten to blight the speaking and listening skills of a generation of children and young people. 

“It is also time to unleash the enduring power of young people’s voices in shaping the future and creating new opportunities to thrive. As we grapple to understand the implications of AI, it is becoming increasingly clear that it is the human social and emotional skills bound up in oracy that will maintain and grow in value in an uncertain tomorrow.

“Voice 21 has seen firsthand the transformative impact of oracy education in our 900 Voice 21 Oracy Schools and we hope that this announcement will prompt more schools to embrace oracy and get talking in class. “



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© 2024 Voice 21. Voice 21 is a registered charity in England and Wales. Charity number 1152672 | Company no. 08165798