Today I spoke at the launch of the new “Speak for Change” report by the Oracy APPG on the importance of developing speaking skills in school which featured The Oaks Primary School in Chantry, Ipswich. Oracy is the development of speaking skills which allows students to express themselves fluently and confidently.
The report shows just how key Oracy is to pupil’s development in school but also for their social and emotional wellbeing. It’s been clear from the dislocation a lot of young students have felt this year, that the social aspect of improving these skills cannot be understated.
I found it particularly concerning as highlighted in the report that 66% of primary teachers and nearly half of secondary teachers have said that school closures during the pandemic had a negative effect on the spoken language development of pupils eligible for free school meals. In my role on the Education Committee this year we have spoken at length about how to best support students in making up lost learning and I believe that making Oracy a key focus is crucial to this.
Evidence in the report also shows that Oracy’s benefits extend well beyond school to improving young people’s chances of securing their preferred education and training pathway as they leave secondary school and boosting their employment prospects. It is my belief that, on top of other areas of the curriculum, we need to make sure that all our young people have access to a language-rich environment. Unfortunately, there are so many talented young people from more deprived backgrounds who do well in school but when they get to interview for jobs don’t perform to their full potential. Every child in this country should get the oral communication skills that will see them thrive.
I have always been a keen advocate for the benefits of speaking skills throughout education. When I was at university, I was the mentor for the charity Debate Mate and actually ran a debating class in all girls schools in an underprivileged part of Manchester. I coached them for 6 months and then entered them into the regional final and saw how their speaking skills and their confidence grew over that time. It was incredibly fulfilling to see this positive transformation.
I was also really thrilled that The Oaks Primary school in Ipswich was included in the report and wanted to thank co-headteacher, Jeremy Pentreath, for his contributions. I visited them very recently and they explained to me all the work they have been doing. They have done a fantastic job at effectively implementing their Oracy programme and it is clear they are seeing the results. Staff have noticed the positive impact it is having on teaching and learning, particularly in areas such as vocabulary, Pupil Premium underachievement, engagement, positive learning behaviours and retention of facts.
I am now a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy and am keen to help further the cause going forward.