Research School Network: How oracy education gives confidence and a voice. Empowering children through oracy


How oracy education gives confidence and a voice.

Empowering children through oracy

by Aspirer Research School
on the


Lisa Hesmondhalgh

As Director of English, Lisa supports schools within the Aspire Educational Trust and was one of the project Leads for the Aspirer Write Across’ Project, which utilised her subject passion for reading and writing. (Click to read more)

Read more aboutLisa Hesmondhalgh

I am sitting at the back of a classroom in early December 2023, listening to a group of pupils from Wilbraham Primary School in Manchester discuss the impact of oracy education on their learning. Taking over from the teacher, who was initially asking questions, the pupils naturally begin to lead the conversation (there are about 10 pupils from year 1 to year 6 in the group). What strikes me is how different this conversation is from what you may usually find in a primary classroom. The pupils speak confidently and clearly; they look at each other when speaking and take time to consider their responses. A year 5 pupil has delegated herself as the chair and is expertly managing the conversation, ensuring everyone has a turn. Each pupil has chance to talk and respond; all contributions are respected. Pupils use phrases such as building on what xxx said… I would like to add… Can I start by saying…I understand your point of view but….” There is nothing forced or artificial about the conversation; pupils are used to using these strategies for talk. They talk about how oracy education has given them confidence and a voice. They know this will help them when they move to secondary school and ultimately when they find a job. It is empowering. The impact is evident, not only on these pupils but across the entire school.

Wilbraham Primary School is part of the Aspire Educational Trust. The school is situated in Fallowfield in Manchester and serves an ethnically diverse area. There are 652 pupils on role, speaking 46 different languages. 50% of pupils are eligible for FSM. The school began to work with Voice 21 in September 2022. This is their second year embedding oracy within the school. Oracy Champions from Wilbraham are leading the implementation of oracy education across the Aspire Educational Trust which is a primary led trust of 12 schools across Manchester and Cheshire.

Oracy is our ability to communicate effectively using spoken language. Oracy is the ability to articulate ideas, develop understanding and engage with others through spoken language. (Voice 21) Voice 21 | Oracy | United Kingdom

It is the ability to speak eloquently, articulate ideas and thoughts, influence through talking, listen to others and have the confidence to express your views. These are all fundamental skills that support success in both learning and life beyond school.

Oracy isn’t just any talk that is happening – it is purposeful classroom talk which develops children’s speaking and listening skills and enhances their learning through the effective use of spoken language. Oracy is to speech what literacy is to writing and numeracy is to maths.
Oracy All Party Parliamentary Group (OAPPG, 2021)

Why does oracy matter? Why did we decide that it was a key driver for our trust?

Within the primary National Curriculum, Spoken Language is one of the three pillars of English – Reading, Writing and Spoken Language, but lacks status and importance within many schools for a variety of reasons. The Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group launched the Speak for Change Inquiry in 2021 (OAPPG, 2021) to improve oracy education for every child in every school. The Inquiry aimed to investigate the provision of oracy education in the UK, assess its impact, and identify actions to enable all children to access the benefits of oracy. See the Speak for Change report for a detailed overview (OAPPG, 2021). Executive Summary-Oracy APPG final report.pdf ( Evidence from the inquiry 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.

Evidence from the inquiry 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.

2. Underpins literacy and vocabulary acquisition:
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.

5. Develops citizenship and agency:
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. (OAPPG, 2021)

Spoken Language in the National Curriculum for English

The case for why to develop oracy education was clear. But there was a question mark over where spoken language fitted into the English and wider curriculum in our schools. There are 12 statements for Spoken Language within the national curriculum that should underpin all our teaching. If you reflect on what currently happens in your school, what does the teaching of spoken language and oracy education across the curriculum look like? Is it valued? Does it have equal status to reading and writing?

This was a question we asked ourselves at The Aspire Educational Trust. We believe that we place high value on oracy in the classroom – there are lots of opportunities for pupils to talk in lessons. But when we held up a mirror to own practice and reflected on how the 12 statements for spoken language are taught through our schools, we knew that oracy needed to be explicitly planned for and taught – in all subjects and not just in English. Look at the Primary National Curriculum for Spoken Language yourself and reflect on what your curricular intent and implementation looks like in your own setting. What do each of the statements look like across school? Can you show progression? Is spoken language a byproduct of what happens in the classroom? Are pupils taught to participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play/​improvisations and debates for example? Do teachers understand how to support pupils to articulate and justify their answers, arguments and opinions?

Primary National Curriculum 2014

Spoken language

Pupils should be taught to:

- listen and respond appropriately to adults and their peers
- ask relevant questions to extend their understanding and knowledge
- use relevant strategies to build their vocabulary
- articulate and justify answers, arguments and opinions
- give well-structured descriptions, explanations and narratives for different purposes, including for expressing feelings
- maintain attention and participate actively in collaborative conversations, staying on topic and initiating and responding to comments
- use spoken language to develop understanding through speculating, hypothesising, imagining and exploring ideas
- speak audibly and fluently with an increasing command of Standard English
- participate in discussions, presentations, performances, role play/​improvisations and debates
- gain, maintain and monitor the interest of the listener(s)
- consider and evaluate different viewpoints, attending to and building on the contributions of others
- select and use appropriate registers for effective communication

As a starting point we looked at the work of Voice 21 and began by asking ourselves – What is oracy? What does it currently look like in our schools? What do we want it to look like? Why is it important?

Voice 21 state: In school, oracy is a powerful tool for learning; by teaching students to become more effective speakers and listeners we empower them to better understand themselves, each other, and the world around them. It is also a route to social mobility, empowering all students, not just some, to find their voice to succeed in school and life.

Through a high-quality oracy education students learn through talk and to talk. This is when they develop and deepen their subject knowledge and understanding through talk in the classroom, which has been planned, designed, modelled, scaffolded and structured to enable them to learn the skills needed to talk effectively.

We began by looking at the definition or oracy. Oracy is the ability to articulate ideas, develop understanding and engage with others through spoken language.” Focusing on how pupils learn to talk and learn through talk.

Venn diagram

The Oracy Benchmarks provided an initial baseline of what Oracy looks like in our schools. Oracy Champions, chosen to lead oracy across their school, carried out baseline assessments at a strategic level and worked with individual teachers to shape the implementation of oracy within their own school. The EEF’s guidance report, Putting evidence to work: A school’s guide to implementation (2019) supported Oracy Champions to carefully plan implementation of oracy education in their own schools. EEF_Implementation_Guidance_Report_2019.pdf (

Benchmarks-report-FINAL.pdf (

The Oracy Benchmarks outline what constitutes a high-quality oracy education. They provide a robust and realistic framework for teachers and schools to

- Understand what makes a high-quality oracy education
- Articulate clear goals for their own oracy provision
- Open up dialogue about their current practice
- Guide strategic planning and improvement school

Oracy benchmarks reflect the different levers available to school leaders. While the teacher and school benchmarks can be read individually, they are most meaningful when read alongside each other, reflecting the fundamental relationship between the knowledge, capability, confidence and actions of individual teachers and the expectations, ethos and success of the school as a whole. The teacher benchmarks feed the school ones – they establish fundamental ideas which are they scaled up and extrapolated to a whole school level.
(Voice 21 2019)

It is no accident that the importance of communication, speech and language is the first recommendation within the series of four guidance reports that the EEF has produced on the theme of language and literacy.

Now on their second iteration, the guidance reports present the same recommendations as the first, but offer additional examples, explanations and resources to provide direct paths of action from the evidence-based guidance to classroom practice. The recommendations represent lever points’ where there is useful evidence about language and literacy teaching that schools can use to make a significant difference to pupils’ learning. (EEF)

EEF Guidance reports – using our professional judgement.

Working with ELE’s from Aspirer Research School, we were able to unpick the evidence around communication and language to inform our implementation plans.

For example, Recommendation 1 from Preparing for Literacy (2019) explains the importance of prioritising high-quality interactions with children. A distinction is sometimes drawn between talking with children and simply talking to children; talking to children tends to be more passive, while talking with children is based on their immediate experiences and activities and is likely to be more effective. When done well, high quality interactions often look effortless, but they are not easy to do well, and professional development is likely to be beneficial.

Planning purposeful speaking and listening activities where pupils can share their thought processes are also key e.g. the use of structured questioning, high quality dialogue in the classroom, between the teacher and the pupils and between pupils, to support pupils to develop their thinking and use of language. As well as this, teachers provided opportunities for structured talk, using sentence starters and prompts to help children to structure and extend their responses which was initially limited to Talk Tactics from Voice 21 – Instigate, Build and Challenge.

For children in the Nursery and Reception class at Wilbraham, high quality dialogue was carefully planned. In order for this to be successful, the Oracy Champions developed clear routines and expectations which would enable talk to be more successful. Talk Guidelines were established and made explicit to children at the start of every talk activity. These were displayed at child height and worn on staff lanyards so they could be constantly referred to. Over the course of the year, children became familiar with the symbols and language of how to talk and exhibited these behaviours when talking in groups. Teachers constantly reinforced and praised these behaviours.


The Oracy Framework

We also looked at The Oracy Framework from Voice 21. The framework breaks down spoken language into four strands. Each strand represents an area of oracy that teachers can help learners to develop. We used it as both a teaching and assessment tool.

The Physical Strand
– This includes aspects of talk such as intonation, fluency and pace, clarity and body language. These are often the most noticeable aspects of the way that someone speaks. They liken the development of skills in this strand to becoming more adept at playing a musical instrument. 

The Linguistic Strand
– This includes aspects such as appropriate vocabulary choice, grammar, register and rhetorical techniques such as the use of metaphor. Being able to adapt our way of speaking to fit different situations and contexts is an important skill to improve on. 

The Cognitive Strand
– This includes aspects such as the choice of content, building on the ideas of others, structuring and organising talk effectively, summarising, seeking information and clarification through asking questions, giving reasons for opinions and critically examining ideas. Bringing the appropriate content to talk is essential.

The Social and Emotional Strand – This includes aspects such as working with others, listening and responding, confidence in speaking and awareness of the audience. Being able to conduct themselves appropriately in discussion and dialogue is an important part of learners developing their skills in oracy. 

Whilst, as we shall see later, good oracy is associated with gains in attainment, it is much wider and more important than simply improving test scores. 

Wilbraham Primary School chose to focus their initial implementation of oracy on the Social and Emotional strand and Physical strand as these are perceived as the easier strands to develop. As you can see from the examples of classroom practice below, pupils were given precise feedback and praised on each strand. For example, their pace of speech or voice projection. Other schools in the trust followed this example, rolling out simple Talk Guidelines and providing training on how to use the Oracy Framework as a starting point for explicitly structuring talk in the classroom.


What does Oracy look like at Wilbraham Primary School – Examples for practice.

These examples of classroom practices exemplify the oracy journey the school took.

June 2023


Eight children are sitting around the whiteboard with sentence stems written about a book they are already familiar with – Jasper’s Beanstalk. 
Before beginning the session, the teacher reminds the children of the talk guidelines. She shares the picture/​icon. What is good talking? What do you have to do?” She then explains each icon to the children to remind them.

Take turns

This picture is for taking turns. One at a time.”

Each child is given a talk token to help them take turns. The teacher presents three pictures: One picture for I agree…”, one picture for I disagree…” and one picture forI think the same…” The teacher models the sentence stem aloud first, then children repeat carefully. She then introduces the problem. 
Jasper thinks he needs to pick up all the slugs and snails to help the beanstalk grow.” 

The teacher gives the children some individual thinking time, referring to it as being in your nest.


Once children had had their individual thinking time in their nest, she asks them to show their talk token (a coloured counter) when they were ready to speak. Children hold up their talk tokens in the air. 

Children then begin the discussion using the sentence stem,I think he needs to, so they don’t eat the slugs and snails.” The teacher doesn’t rush to agree with what the children are saying, instead she prompts other children to think about whether they thought the same or different, using a physical action to show this. (Fingers apart for different, fingers crossed for the same) She also uses the language of talk tactics -Can anyone build on her ideas?”


Children place their talk tokens on the corresponding sentence stem after they have spoken. E.g.,” I agree… 

Children who speak quietly are reminded to use a louder voice – the teacher refers children to their talk tactics and shows them the picture.

Speak clearl

At the end of the session, the teacher praises the children on their oracy skills rather than giving general feedback e.g., rather than well done, she praises them for using a clear and loud voice or trying to look at the person speaking. For pupils who are shy or who need additional support, she reminds them by sayingCan you use your words?”


The children are arranged as a hoop group’ (45 children sitting around a hoop on the carpet) facilitated by the teacher. They are reminded of the rules for talking and listening using the agreed talk rules. E.g., Good looking (pair of eyes icon) – We have to look at the person talking.” The teacher asks, How do we show good listening? – We take turns to talk.” Children are given a talk token (small plastic counter or coin) which would be placed in the hoop when they speak. The teacher refers to the talk guidelines icons. Speak clearly and loudly. Don’t be shy, think of your own ideas.”

Speak clearl

The teacher introduces a sentence based on a book they have been reading. All dragons are scary.” On the board are written two sentence stems – I agree with Miss XXX because… and I disagree with Miss XX because… 
The children place their token to take turns. They are prompted to take part and reminded of the basic skills for listening.
e.g., Remember to use a loud voice so we can hear you. 

Children are prompted to use sentence stems e.g. I disagree with Miss XXXX because …… I challenge what XXXX said …. I agree because they.… Once each child has participated the teacher praises the oracy skills they have used e.g., you were looking at the child when you they were talking. Or you looked at the child when you spoke.” 
This kind of group is facilitated in different ways in Reception depending on the activity or the needs of the group. Sometimes a group with a specific oracy focus is taught as a small group whilst the rest of the class are accessing continuous provision. This allows for focused talk and enables the teacher to target specific children to develop their oracy skills, particularly if they have a SLCN or EAL.

Year 4 
The teacher begins the lesson by reminding the pupils of the stem sentences they are going to use. These are displayed in the classroom and are already familiar to the pupils. 
I would like to start by saying… 
I disagree with XXX because.… 

The lesson begins with specific talking points linked to science. The purpose is to revisit concepts pupils have already been taught and address any misconceptions and recall prior learning. 
The first talking point is introduced by the teacher: Freezing is the same as a sold.” 
Pupils are given thinking time (at least 10 seconds of silence) then asked to contribute their ideas to a whole class discussion facilitated by the class teacher. Pupils who want to start the discussion use the instigate’ sign to show they want to start talking.


(As well as a symbol for INSTIGATE, pupils also use a hand signal which has been agreed in previous lessons). The pupil who instigated the discussion states, You freeze water, but it is not a solid.”  The teacher does not comment or jump in to correct the pupil’s misconception. Instead, he allows the next child to build on this comment. The next pupil indicates they would like to speak by using the familiar hand signals for build”. (One fist over the other like one potato two potato.)


He says, I would like to add that freezing is a change, but water is a state of matter.” Pupils continue to build and/​or challenge the initial thought until they have a consensus that water in its frozen state is a solid. The pupils co-construct the answer using their previous knowledge and arrive at the consensus without the need for the teacher to intervene except for managing the discussion. He offers comments such asinteresting” or tell me more” but does not correct initial misconceptions.


The second talking point is then introduced by the teacher. 
In a narrative, we should use a character, setting and description.” 

Pupils instigate the discussion in the same way. The initial pupil uses the physical hand signal to instigate and is chosen by the teacher to start. Pupils then build on or challenge the points using language such as,I agree with what XXX said and want to build on their point further by saying …”


Again, the teacher doesn’t jump into to offer his opinion or correct the pupils’ responses. He clarifies some of the points for discussion or states,That’s an interesting point. Can you tell me more?” He also praises pupils for listening to each other and building on the discussion.


Wilbraham Primary School and the schools within the Aspire Educational Trust are 16 months into the implementation of oracy education. Working with Voice 21 has provided to expert training and impetus for Wilbraham, but it is not necessarily needed to develop a curriculum and approach. The Oracy Benchmarks, Oracy Framework and EEF Guidance Reports have supported the initial elements of implementation across the MAT.

Over a year on, all classes at Wilbraham Primary School have embedded Talk Tactics, teachers are becoming more expert at using the talk tactics and developing talk in the classroom, but there is still a long way to go; they are still only within the early stages of implementation. The Oracy Champions continue to lead regular whole staff meetings, phase meetings and work with individual teachers to model and support practice. It is exciting to see the impact on pupils so far, as this blog shows, but ongoing commitment from leadership within the MAT and the school is needed to keep the impetus going. Oracy is a key driver for The Aspire Educational Trust again this year. Over the next few newsletters, we will provide regular updates about what this looks like in some of our other schools – what’s going well and what some of issues have been, to support you in planning and implementing effective oracy education in your setting.

Lisa Hesmondhalgh, Director of English, The Aspire Educational Trust, Evidence Lead Aspirer Research School


Benchmarks-report-FINAL.pdf (

Oracy All Party Parliamentary Group. (2021). Speak for Change: Final report and recommendations from the Oracy All‐​Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry.

EEF Preparing for Literacy Guidance Report (June 2018) Preparing for Literacy | EEF (

EEF Improving Literacy in KS1 Guidance Report (Sept 20202nd Edition) Improving Literacy in Key Stage 1 | EEF (

EEF Improving Literacy in KS2 Guidance Report (Nov 2021) Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2 | EEF (

EEF Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools (July 2018) Improving Literacy in Secondary Schools | EEF (

EEF Putting evidence to work: A school’s guide to implementation (Dec 2019) EEF_Implementation_Guidance_Report_2019.pdf (

National curriculum in England: English programmes of study – GOV.UK (

Voice 21 | Oracy | United Kingdom

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