What needs to change and why
The APPG believes that there is an indisputable case for oracy as an integral aspect of education and that all children and young people should benefit from high-quality oracy education as a consistent and comprehensive entitlement of their education in school. However, our evidence has shown that the status and provision of oracy education falls significantly short of this vision.
Our findings show:
- The absence of oracy education hampers children and young people’s long-term opportunities and capabilities, with disadvantaged children and young people experiencing the most detrimental effects. Unemployed young people are almost twice as likely as those in employment or full-time students to feel that their schooling did not give them sufficient oracy skills for success in later life. They are also around twice as likely to say that their education did not help them develop good oracy skills.
- The pandemic has widened the language gap and increased the imperative to act now in order to narrow gaps in outcomes and improve employability in a more challenging job market. Two thirds of primary teachers and nearly half of secondary teachers say school closures had a negative effect on the spoken language development of students eligible for pupil premium, compared with 1 in 5 teachers for their most advantaged pupils.
- There is a concerning variation in the time and attention afforded to oracy across schools leaving the development of many children and young people’s oracy skills and ability to chance. Many schools are not meeting the statutory requirements in spoken language. Less than half (46%) of primary teachers and a quarter (23%) of secondary teachers say they are confident in their understanding of the spoken language requirements outlined in the National Curriculum. Only 14% of classroom teachers felt that their school was meeting the spoken language requirements of the National Curriculum to a great extent compared to 40% of School Leaders.
- There is a powerful cross sector consensus on the importance of oracy supported by a robust evidence base, yet educators have argued that oracy is positioned as a peripheral rather than central concern, and schools report focusing on oracy despite, not because of, the prevailing climate of policy and accountability.
What we are calling for
We know that oracy, the ability to speak and communicate clearly, is an essential ingredient for future success, yet it remains undervalued in our education system. The Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry has collated evidence from across the education sector and wider society. We’ve spoken with hundreds of teachers to better understand why schools’ approaches to oracy remain inconsistent and what can be done to ensure teachers and schools are better supported to maximise the potential opportunities to accelerate and amplify oracy education.
We want to see a shift in emphasis on oracy in our education system which:
- Raises the status and priority of oracy. The status of oracy in the architecture of our education system does not fully reflect its value and importance to children and young people’s outcomes in school and life. Contributors argued that the lack of focus and emphasis on spoken language and oracy across educational policy and currency in the qualifications system, the challenges of assessing oracy, and the pressures to meet external accountability targets disincentivised schools and teachers from giving it the attention they feel it deserves. Developing non-statutory guidance to support schools to embed the statutory spoken language requirements set out in the National Curriculum is an important immediate step towards achieving this.
- Sets out shared expectations for oracy across schools which outline that oracy should be explicitly taught, to all children and young people across all ages and stages of education, increasing understanding of how this can be achieved. There is a disconnect in expectations and understanding of oracy that results in patchy provision of variable quality. Oracy is seen as optional and without shared expectations and understanding, provision too often depends on an individual teacher's perceptions of the value of oracy, their subject area, and the particular challenges their school faces.
- Empowers and equips teachers and schools to develop their students oracy skills by increasing teacher confidence and capability in oracy, developing high quality tools and resources to support oracy teaching, and supporting leadership for oracy to enable a positive culture and the conditions for oracy to thrive in schools. By increasing the status and developing shared expectations and understanding of oracy this should serve to galvanise and incentivise improvements to access, provision and effectiveness of oracy education, but children and young people's experience of oracy education will ultimately depend on what happens in their schools and classrooms every day.
- Supports Covid-19 education recovery: With evidence demonstrating the impact of school closures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic on pupils’ spoken language development as well as wellbeing and mental health. Ensuring schools and teachers are enabled to provide high quality oracy education should be a priority of ‘catch-up’ support.
Taking these steps will help meet the needs of students and their teachers, ensuring that our children and young people develop the oracy skills they need to become confident communicators and thrive in school, life and work.
Our full recommendations for change are set out in our Speak for Change Inquiry report.