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Why oracy is so important in the classroom

By Mark Richards,

24 Jan 2020

In another education case of ‘what comes around goes around’, oracy is now being hailed as vitally important in the classroom. Nick Gibb, Schools Minister, has been talking up oracy after the national media picked up a story regarding a primary school in Bradford that has banned words such as ‘like’ – confining them to ‘word jails’ situated on classroom wall displays. The fact that this new emphasis comes only a few years after the government essentially culled Speaking and Listening from the GCSE English Language curriculum is rather ironic to say the least. Skills that the government insinuated were a soft option - and not as important as writing an essay about a 19th century novel, for example - are now being seen as valuable again. Why is oracy so important? Now, it’s a stretch to blame the poor oracy standards of current primary school children on the government’s decision to devalue Speaking & Listening at GCSE, but the simple fact remains: it should never have been devalued in the first place! Oracy is vitally important in the classroom.

If language acquisition and development in Early Years is poor, then primary classrooms do need to try and compensate for this and enable children to ‘catch up’. Copthorne Primary School in Bradford is taking the lead by banning single-word responses to questions.

More schools should pick up the baton for oracy and encourage their students to articulate more confidently. The impact of video games, too much screen time, social media, and celebrities in general have all been cited as possible causes for poor oracy standards, Now an All-Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy has launched an inquiry into how oracy education can be improved in schools. For too long, oracy has been overlooked and undervalued.

The truth is that there are few skills that are as important in later life.

Poor oracy is every bit a problem as poor literacy and numeracy skills.

It can hold back social mobility and future employability. In short, without oracy skills and confidence, a person does not have a voice. Speaking & Listening skills must be valued highly It’s not a silver bullet, but valuing Speaking & Listening once again as an important and integral part of the English curriculum would be a good start.

This would also be a great way of recognising the importance of oracy in schools and promoting it as a skill for life. However, oracy or Speaking & Listening should definitely not be seen as an ‘English’ thing.

Just as schools have realised that literacy is not just something that should be the domain of the English classroom, and that it is a whole-school responsibility – the same is true of oracy. There is a collective responsibility to do all we can in schools to promote oracy.

The focus of the school curriculum has drifted and become very knowledge-based.

Communication skills are fundamentally important too.


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5- Are GCSEs no longer fit for purpose?