What schools want versus what schools need; how to embed long-term, sustained change

Back in 2016, when Voice 21 was still operating from a broom cupboard in one school in East London and just beginning to think about how we could support more schools to provide a high-quality oracy education, we received a lot of requests to deliver one-off INSET days. And we jumped at them all! We were excited by any chance to ensure that more students were taught the oracy skills they needed to succeed in school and in life. Yet, we soon started to question whether our training was really achieving its intended impact: were we actually changing teachers’ practice? If we revisited one of these schools after a year, would they be doing anything differently? And were we having any impact on student outcomes? 

Fast forward 7 years and a lot has changed. This year, we are working with 870 schools. And we won’t be providing any of them with a one-off INSET day. Instead, we will work with these ‘Voice 21 Oracy Schools’ over a sustained period of time (at least a year but typically three years or more), supporting them through a blend of professional development for key colleagues, tailored in-school support and opportunities to collaborate and share practice with other schools prioritising oracy. Embedding oracy into the DNA of a school (so it is just ‘what we do here’) takes time; by working with a school over a number of years, we are able to provide them with the right support at the right time, ensuring that changes to practice are sustained and long-lasting. 

Crucially, our membership secures the commitment of a whole school, rather than an individual teacher, laying the groundwork for long-term institutional change which will benefit current and future cohorts of students. As well as training teachers across the school, we work with a designated Oracy Leader to support them to design and implement policies, practices and procedures which create the conditions for oracy to thrive beyond our intervention. This is important; survey data from our schools reveals that the more confident an Oracy Leader feels in their role, the more progress their school makes towards embedding a sustained, high-quality oracy education. 

Whilst we will continue to improve and refine the support we provide to schools based on what we learn (we’re unapologetically ambitious!), we’re confident that our approach works; at the start of a school’s membership, only 27% of teachers across a school are ‘oracy confident’ but this rises to 75% after three years. Crucially, this is having an impact on students; 90% of teachers in Voice 21 Oracy Schools are confident that their students’ oracy skills have improved. And so, when approached by school leaders who want us to provide one-off training in their schools (which still happens regularly) we can say, with confidence, that a one-off INSET day is not the way.

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