The power of speech

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So much in life depends on being a good communicator, so it’s vital that children learn the importance of oracy from a young age. Oracy is having the ability to say what you want to say, structure your thoughts, and express yourself while making sense to others.

Having good communication and language skills supports children’s ability to learn, think about and understand the world, and interact with others. Children who start school with limited communication skills are six times less likely than their peers to reach their age-related expectations in English at the end of Year 6. Good oracy also leads to improved performance in other curriculum areas, including maths and science.

Developing early oracy skills isn’t just important for children’s education. Children who communicate well are more likely to form good relationships with other children and adults and may be less prone to behavioural issues as they can express their frustrations verbally rather than turning to anger. Children who are good communicators are less likely to have mental health problems as adults, possibly because they’re more able to express their feelings.

Focusing on oracy in primary schools is key to improving children’s life chances. On entry to school, disadvantaged children’s spoken language development is significantly lower than their more advantaged peers. There is a 19-month gap between the language skills of five-year-olds in the lowest and highest income groups. [1]  Without intervention, these gaps grow, as pupils with the strongest language skills make the most progress in all areas of the school curriculum.

Students receiving free school meals are 1.6 times more likely to be below language expectations at age 5, compared to their non-free school meal peers. This gap grows to twice as likely to be below language expectations at age 11[2].

On average, pupils who participate in oral language interventions make approximately five months’ additional progress over the course of a year[3].

St John’s is dedicated to providing these effective intervention tools. In 2020, we launched the Foundation Fund to help eliminate the educational inequality faced by children in our community. We work closely with seven schools across the local area that have high levels of disadvantaged children on their registers. Through working with national oracy education charity, Voice 21, we help provide children with essential communication and language skills.

Voice21 works tirelessly to transform children’s learning and life chances through speech. Their mission is to empower all children and young people to use their voice for success in school and in life. Since becoming a delivery partner of the Foundation Fund, Voice21 has worked in partnership with the schools to help enhance the quality of oracy education.

They have begun developing and implementing an oracy-rich approach to teaching and learning in the schools through professional programmes, providing leaders with the knowledge and skills to build staff capacity and embed oracy across the school. Next year their experts will start to work with the schools to build an ambitious, context-driven curriculum for oracy which is embedded across different phases and subject disciples.

St John’s also supports improving the speech and language outcomes for under 5’s through our Language for Life project. Working in partnership with HCRG and Bath and North East Somerset Council’s Early Years team, the project focuses on supporting pre-school children to reach age-related expectations in communication and language development before they make the transition into Primary School settings in Bath and Keynsham.

By working together, we hope to see long-term change in the schools within our Primary Empowerment Programme and ensure that all young people have access to a high-quality oracy education.

[1] Source: Communication Trust 2017, Talking About a Generation

[2] Moss and Washbrook 2016 Understanding the Gender Gap in Literacy and Language Development

[3] Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) evaluation of oral language interventions.