“Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
At St. Francis de Sales, we do not regard silence as being ‘golden’. Our classrooms are rich in high quality talk, using oracy skills as drivers of change. We passionately believe in the motto ‘Oracy First’ as research evidences that purposeful speaking and listening activities aid the development of pupils’ language capabilities; therefore, this secures a foundation for thinking and communication. The potential is then there for oracy to permeate pupils’ lives (both in school and beyond, which could address social disadvantage).
Research has also proven that a child’s ability to use spoken language has a direct effect on their overall level of educational attainment. This is why we do not treat ‘Oracy’ as a discrete subject at St. Francis de Sales – it is a part of our school’s culture and weaves through the entire curriculum as an integral part of teaching and learning. It is also our duty to prepare our pupils to become responsible, independent citizens, who can express themselves effectively and confidently, articulate ideas, speak eloquently using Standard English, influence through spoken language and listen to others with understanding.
Oracy is one of the ‘five common essentials’ at St. Francis de Sales; therefore, opportunities are planned for pupils to develop their use of spoken language across every subject. An oracy skills progression document is followed by staff and pupils are introduced to the skills for their year groups with ‘Oracy Skills’ booklets. Year group posters are also displayed in classrooms as constant reminders of the five key areas to be developed. These are: Spoken language, Use of Voice, Body Language, Organisation and Listening and Responding. Each of these areas is represented by an image that pupils become familiar with. When appropriate, these images are displayed during lessons (across all subjects) on teachers’ presentations and pupils’ task cards to signal that there is an ‘Oracy Opportunity’.
There are two particular areas of Oracy that our pupils are constantly made aware of: Standard English and avoidance of gap fillers. All staff (not just teachers) are instructed to model the correct use of Standard English when speaking in any kind of situation and to avoid using gap fillers e.g. ‘erm’ and ‘like’. As these two particular examples are frequently used by our pupils, classrooms display a sign with a cross through them! Extra support is offered to staff if they require it, and they are also encouraged to correct pupils' mistakes when they are talking in any context. It has even become a natural thing for our pupils themselves to notice and offer constructive advice to their peers (and sometimes staff!) when they hear mistakes.
In addition to planning regular 'Oracy Opportunities' across all subjects, here are some other examples of how we give ‘Oracy’ a high profile at St. Francis de Sales:
- ‘Formative 5’ sessions for verbal feedback at the beginning of every lesson
- Individual knowledge organiser folders for pupils to refer to and discuss with their peers
- Subject leaders regularly seeking pupil voice from a range of pupils and selecting ‘Subject Ambassadors’
- The school council election process and subsequent school council meetings – led by the councillors
- Our Play Pod providing unlimited opportunities for expressive play and talk
- Our focus on children’s mental health and the strategies we have in place to encourage talk
- ‘Global Scholars’ after-school club
- ‘Zoom’ classes with outside agencies
Our intent to weave oracy skills across the entire SFDS curriculum is contributing towards the impact of teaching and learning in every subject area at our school. It can clearly be seen across all year groups how our motto of ‘Oracy First’ is enabling our pupils to grow in confidence when expressing themselves in a variety of contexts, leading to greater independence.
The impact of teaching and learning key oracy skills is measured and assessed via:
- The Oracy Lead keeping updated with the latest pedagogy and reviewing our school’s approach. This has been aided by our school being a member of Voice 21’s ‘The Voice Liverpool Activate Programme’, which focuses on developing expert Oracy practice in the classroom and beyond.
- Ongoing formative assessment, which enables staff to model the correct use of Standard English and other key skills. Our teachers intervene at the point of learning to offer constructive advice/guidance for pupils, allowing them to reflect immediately.
- Regular class discussions and performances (e.g. reciting poems and class debates) providing opportunities for the ‘SFDS Oracy Progression Ladder’ to be put into practice. Teachers can monitor whether pupils are implementing the recommended skills for their year group.
Our pupils are not the only ones to have been positively impacted upon by the SFDS approach to Oracy! Through sharing our excellent Oracy practice online via Twitter, our pupils’ high standards have been recognised and celebrated by Oxford University, Voice 21 (a national Oracy charity) and the Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group. Academics and lecturers from other UK universities (and even one in Brazil!) have also acknowledged via Twitter how our pupils’ Oracy skills have stood out to them.