Oracy needs the same focus and attention as literacy and numeracy

Although we hear the word ‘literacy’ a great deal in education, we hear rather less about ‘oracy’. Oracy is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as ‘the ability to express oneself fluently and grammatically in speech’ — in other words, oral communication skills. Spoken communication is going to be more important than ever in the coming decades.

Consider, to cite just one example, the emergence of the video-conferencing platform Zoom in the popular consciousness as many people have worked from home during the lockdown; the need for physical distancing will (hopefully) soon pass, but the trend away from office working and towards remote working is likely to continue. The curriculum needs to reflect changing social, economic, cultural and technological realities, placing as much emphasis on oracy as it does on literacy and numeracy.

There is much work to be done, as our Communication Breakdown page makes clear. For example, Department for Education figures from 2018 showed that 28% of four- and five-year-olds do not meet communication and literacy levels expected by the end of the reception year.

The repeated lockdowns and the enforced closure of schools for most children for long periods has undoubtedly had an impact on young people’s oracy skills. A December 2020 report produced by Oxford University Press and the Centre for Education and Youth stated that 92% of teachers believe that school closures have increased the so-called ‘word gap’, which is a reference to children whose vocabulary is below age-related expectations.

As in so many areas, one of the effects of lockdown is to exacerbate already-existing inequalities. We know that there is a strong correlation between poverty and underdeveloped language skills. A 2015 report from Save the Children called Ready to read: Closing the gap in early language skills so that every child in England can read well reported that children living in poverty face a much greater risk of falling behind: one in three (35%) do not have the language skills expected of a five-year-old. Boys growing up in poverty face a particularly high risk of falling behind: 42% of poor boys do not have the language skills expected of a five-year-old, compared to 28% of poor girls.

There is an oracy all-party parliamentary group, which is due to launch its Speak for Change inquiry report next week. On its website the group says this:

Oracy is to speech what literacy is to writing and numeracy is to maths. It is the ability to express yourself effectively — 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.

from the website of the Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group

Oracy Cambridge: The Centre for Effective Spoken Communication aims to promote oracy in schools and in wider society.

Wendy Lee, one of the centre’s associates says:

Oracy is the foundation of everything! The ability to use our language to support our understanding and to share and develop our thoughts and ideas. It doesn’t happen by accident. It needs teaching and nurturing to grow. At the simplest level, it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children.

Wendy Lee, quoted on the Oracy Cambridge website

The Oracy Cambridge website is packed with resources of use for teachers and school leaders, including guides for schools on developing pupils’ oracy, an oracy skills framework and classroom resources.

Oracy Cambridge features in the Links area of the Forum website. There is a page for each of the nine life-based learning themes, with links (a) to sites with teaching ideas and resources for immediate use in the classroom and in curriculum planning (b) to a range of information-rich websites relevant to life-based learning.

We are always looking to expand the Links area of the website and welcome suggestions for additional links to high-quality websites. You can contact us here.

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Image at the head of this article by Naser Mohammadi from Pixabay

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