If Labour come into power this year, Keir Starmer has made it clear that oracy is a key feature of his party’s agenda regarding education in England. 

With many people expecting Labour to win the general election this year, some school leaders are starting to pre-empt what this new policy may entail.

If it comes to pass, what exactly will this policy look like in practice?

Schools must be able to correctly define oracy before they are able to plan for it. If and when this policy comes to pass, we will only know then what will be expected from schools.

In the absence of clarity, we already know from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) that ‘Oral Language Intervention’ or ‘Oracy’ is a highly effective teaching and learning strategy adding on average +6 months of learning over the course of a year.

This progress is particularly prevalent when paired with oral language intervention aimed at reading outcomes. The impact of oracy on maths or science is less clear from available research, but we can infer a compound effect across all subjects, which is more pronounced where students’ reading ability is low. 

We know that oracy strategies are most effective in the Early Years (+7 months) and less effective in Secondary (+5 months). Students need to have achieved a base level of competency in reading, writing and oracy to access the curriculum across all subjects.

In an Early Years, Primary or even a Secondary setting vocabulary and language can be the key that unlocks learning in all subjects. This may also be particularly pertinent for students who speak English as an Additional Language (EAL).

GL Assessment recently provided an analysis which showed the validity of reading ability as a key predictor to GCSE success across all subjects.

How can I implement oracy strategies in my school?

The EEF suggests the following strategies to implement oracy in practice: encouraging pupils to read aloud and then have conversations about book content with teachers and peers; modelling inference through the use of structured questioning; group or paired work that allow pupils to share thought processes; implicit and explicit activities that extend pupils.

All of these strategies can be delivered in the classroom through techniques, such as dialogic questioning to prompt oral participation, cold calling to encourage oracy across the classroom and ‘think, pair, share’ to encourage peer discussions. Of course there are many more techniques that can also be used to prompt meaningful discussion.

However, oracy does present its own challenges in the classroom. Firstly, it is more difficult to assess and collect evidence for than reading or writing assessments. Voice 21 suggests “capturing direct evidence of oracy happening”. This could be through audio recordings with a tool like ours at Vibbl.

Vibbl – the home of verbal feedback

Secondly, oracy can be an area where more introverted or quieter students are underrepresented, particular if the main form of assessment is carried out in a social setting such as a classroom. 

In order to assess oracy effectively, we need to provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and develop their competence in controlled conditions and not just rely on dialogic questioning in the classroom to form our judgements on student capability. 

Using a tool like Vibbl to prompt students to read texts aloud and then continue to have a learning conversation about it can be very effective. Similarly, using Vibbl you can provide implicit or explicit activities that extend speaking and listening skills.

Oracy Cambridge and Voice 21 have compiled a useful Oracy Framework which focuses on four key strands of Oracy: Physical, Linguistic, Cognitive and Social and Emotional.

In the video below you can see how Vibbl can be used to assess the Physical, Linguistic and Cognitive strands of Oracy at different key stages:

Finally, regardless of whether or not this policy comes to pass, oracy will always be a crucial component in learning and a crucial part of the curriculum. We believe oracy has great potential, but due to the difficulty in assessing oracy in practice it could also become a lethal mutation.

How teachers and headteachers are able to implement oracy in practice will come down to the guidance, support, professional development available and tools chosen to execute strategies.