Why oracy matters
Throughout this Inquiry we have heard compelling evidence of the educational benefits of effective and purposeful talk at every stage of schooling and how a greater focus on oral language improves outcomes for the most disadvantaged students. The ability to communicate effectively is an essential ingredient to both success in school and beyond.
Evidence shows that oracy:
1. Improves academic outcomes: Engaging in high-quality oracy practices during lessons deepens understanding and is linked with improved test scores and exam grades as well as greater knowledge retention, vocabulary acquisition and reasoning skills. The Education Endowment Foundation’s (EEF) trials of oral language interventions in schools have demonstrated that pupils make approximately five months additional progress over a year, rising to six months for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
2. Underpins literacy and vocabulary acquisition: Contributors to the Inquiry have stressed the specific role of oracy in relation to language development, vocabulary acquisition and literacy. Oral language and literacy are described as 'inseparable friends' who take turns to piggy-back on each other during the school years and beyond. The importance of spoken language is highlighted in the EEF’s improving literacy guidance for Primary and Secondary schools.
3. Supports wellbeing and confidence: The Covid-19 pandemic has wrought havoc on many young people’s wellbeing. Teachers think oracy plays a critical role in supporting young people’s wellbeing and mental health by providing students with the skills and opportunities to express their thoughts, feelings and emotions, ask for help, interact effectively and positively with peers and adults, and feel listened to and valued. Oracy supports young people to develop their confidence and sense of identity.
4. Enables young people to access employment and thrive in life beyond school: Many Inquiry contributors have emphasised the critical role of oracy in supporting young people’s transitions into further and higher education, training and employment. With improved oracy comes better academic outcomes and greater self-confidence, enabling young people to access and thrive in post-secondary pathways. The Social Mobility Commission has found that strong communication skills are important for improving social mobility and workplace opportunities.
See how oracy has helped students at Chorlton High School
5. Develops citizenship and agency: The Inquiry has taken place against a backdrop of seismic social and political upheaval. Oracy is critical in giving children and young people a voice, literally and figuratively. Providing opportunities for students to express their ideas and critically engage with their peers in dialogue, deliberation and debate are essential if young people are prepared to leave school as active, engaged, and reflective citizens.
Who needs oracy education most?
Oracy education matters for all children and young people but our Inquiry found that oracy education can have a much greater impact on the learning and life chances of some children and young people for whom the blight of an absence of oracy in their education will also be most damaging.
Children and young people experiencing disadvantage and poverty: Research consistently finds that children from low-income homes start school with lower language levels than their more advantaged peers, and these gaps grow as children move through school. Of the children who persistently experienced poverty, 75% arrive at school below average in language development. Around 50% of children in some areas of deprivation begin school with delayed language.
The pandemic has also widened the language gap - two thirds of all 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. Research shows a greater focus on oracy can enable disadvantaged students to fulfil their potential and narrow the attainment gap between them and more advantaged peers.
Children with Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN): SLCN experts contributing to the Inquiry highlighted how universal oracy provision, complementing targeted and specialist provision, has the potential to help transform schooling for children with these needs. Oracy can improve access to and subsequent inclusion in education for children with SLCN and with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).