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ORACY CAMBRIDGE makes waves in parliament

Hughes Hall Centre for Effective Spoken Communication influences national strategy

The Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) released an interim report in December 2020 highlighting that young people have unequal access to opportunities to develop their oracy skills in schools in England. It emphasises the vital importance of developing students’ confidence and competence in spoken language, particularly as the disruption to children’s education over this past year is widening the already stubborn language gap.

Hughes Hall Centre, ORACY CAMBRIDGE, submitted evidence to the APPG’s Speak for Change enquiry, the significance of which is clear from their inclusion in the report’s introduction:

“Oracy education does not only mean teaching children ways to talk that will help them to do well in future job interviews or work settings. It means teaching children the spoken language skills that will enable them to make the most of the education they are offered in their classrooms every day…. Good, inclusive oracy education provides children with the speaking and listening skills they need to think and learn.”

Professor Neil Mercer, Director of ORACY CAMBRIDGE and Hughes Hall Life Fellow, summarised the significance of the report, especially at a time when access to schooling is so variable and increasingly online:

“This is the first ever formal recognition by Members of Parliament of the educational importance of spoken language skills.  It encourages us, with the other organisations in the UK Oracy Network, to continue our efforts to get oracy education into all British schools.”

In summary, the submission supports the view that:

  1. Oracy should be given the same status as literacy and numeracy in the school curriculum
  2. There are serious consequences for academic attainment, employability and social democracy if all young people are not helped to develop the spoken language skills needed to participate in a range of social situations
  3. The development of students’ spoken language skills enables their learning and progress in all school subjects, and develops reasoning skills
  4. Good examples of oracy education can now be found in some British schools
  5. Training in oracy education should be part of initial and ongoing teacher education, in all subjects and phases
  6. The content of oracy education, and its assessment, can be guided by the Oracy Framework created by the University of Cambridge and Voice 21.

The Oracy APPG is calling for better support for teachers to embed oracy in their classrooms and raised expectations for pupils’ entitlement to quality oracy teaching, in order to harness the untapped potential of oracy to address educational inequality, improve employability and support children’s wellbeing as we emerge from this crisis.

Professor Mercer reflected on his hopes for the future:

“We are making real progress with getting oracy into schools, despite the pandemic. I hope that we will also see some greater recognition of the importance of oracy in British universities, which despite making a strong contribution to the research which underpins our oracy initiative, very rarely offer training in spoken language skills to their students.”

Further information

ORACY CAMBRIDGE is a Bridge Centre based at Hughes Hall, in the University of Cambridge. Its aim is to promote oracy in schools and in the wider society. Their work includes writing papers for governments and other organisations (see here), providing training and consultancy for schools (see here), and organising conferences. See here for an overview of what the centre hoped to achieve.

Professor Neil Mercer, BSc (Manchester), MA (Cambridge), PhD (Leicester) is Director of ORACY CAMBRIDGE, a Life Fellow of Hughes Hall, and Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge. He is also an Associate Fellow of the British Psychology Society and in 2019 received the Oevre Award from the European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction. Before he joined Cambridge, he was Professor of Language and Communications at the Open University. He grew up in the Lake District and is an Honorary Fellow of the University of Cumbria.

Further details of ORACY CAMBRIDGE’s submission to the inquiry is available here: https://oracycambridge.org/appg-submission-of-evidence/.

Further details of the APPG, established in 2019, are here: https://www.oracyappg.org.uk/.

For further information please email comms@hughes.cam.ac.uk.