Speaking and Listening in education have had a rough time over the last few years. They have been removed from the GCSE English assessment and downgraded in the new primary school curriculum. Nick Gibb has been quoted as saying that raising the profile of spoken language could “encourage idle chatter in class”.
Clearly what speaking and listening needed was a rebrand. “Speaking and listening” sounds like something we all do every day and don’t need to be taught or have extra opportunities to practise. “Oracy”? Well, that sounds like numeracy and literacy and we all know how crucial they are. Oracy sounds like the kind of thing you need strategies and coordinators for. (And who knows, maybe soon my computer will stop underlining it in red and auto-correcting it to “Tracy” and then we will know it is a real thing).
Last week the English-Speaking Union and Voice 21 launched the Oracy Network with the publication of a new report on oracy and a book of essays called “Speaking Frankly”. The education press have responded warmly with articles in The Times, The Guardian, SchoolsWeek and many more bemoaning the lack of oracy in schools and the importance of making it more of a priority.
This is good news. At the Noisy Classroom we are in favour of everything which raises the profile of speaking and listening. And we have diligently renamed everything as “oracy” on our new website.
But should we stop there? “Oracy in schools” could go with the trend of abbreviations popular from Brangelina to Brexit. Schoracy? Personally I favour “Oracools”.
There is an important point here about the power of language and we need to pass it on to our students. Sometimes the way you frame your language will determine whether you win the debate. Geoff Barton, headteacher of King Edward VI School and PiXL’s oracy champion, has written and spoken persuasively on how debating in state schools can be used to initiate all students into the language of power (including in an excellent essay in “Speaking Frankly”). In the Up For Debate programme which we piloted with the PiXL club last year, we added a new judging criteria of “language” to emphasise this point.
2017 promises to be an exciting year for Oracy, and Noisy Classroom are looking forward to being at the forefront of ‘oracy’ development, just as we have been with ‘Speaking & Listening’ since 2009.
Director, The Noisy Classroom