Voice 21 Written evidence (EDU0073)


  1. What is Voice 21?

1.1 Voice 21 is the national oracy education charity dedicated to ensuring that economically disadvantaged children develop the spoken language skills they need to realise their full potential in school and life.

1.2 Voice 21 believes that all children and young people, regardless of background, should be enabled to find their voice for success in school and in life. We work to achieve this by building the capacity of teachers and schools serving economically disadvantaged students to provide a high-quality oracy education while developing and promoting a compelling evidence base for the impact and importance of oracy.

1.3 Currently, we are actively working with 870 Voice 21 Oracy Schools across the UK to support them to implement a high-quality oracy education which benefits both current and future cohorts of students. 

2.     Oracy skills are vital for success in life beyond school


2.1 Oracy is the ability to articulate ideas, develop understanding and engage with others through spoken language. Oracy skills are essential for young people to successfully transition from school into further study and the workforce.

2.2 Surveys consistently show that verbal communication skills are highly sought after by employers; in a recent City of London Corporation and Nesta survey of employers, communication skills were rated as the top transferable skill[1]. What’s more, jobs which require ‘human skills’ such as empathy, communication and problem solving are associated with higher wage growth potential in a digital economy, as they cannot be automated or outsourced to AI.[2]

2.3 Good spoken language skills also help young people flourish in further or higher education; two thirds of teachers say oracy skills are important for students to succeed in higher or further education, highlighting how an inability to articulate themselves can hinder students’ progression and stop them thriving at university and beyond.[3]

3.     Oracy skills are not routinely taught as part of the 11-16 curriculum in state schools


3.1 Whilst the current National Curriculum in England includes a statutory spoken language programme of study and oral language skills are further integrated within other areas of the curriculum, evidence suggests that this is not being realised in schools; only 23% of secondary school teachers are confident in their understanding of the statutory spoken language requirements outlined in the National Curriculum[4].

3.2 Our own research has shown that, despite its cross-curricular importance, oracy provision is patchy in secondary schools with oracy confidence and expertise unequally distributed across Departments. For example, maths and science teachers are least likely to be involved in the development of their school’s oracy provision[5]

3.3 This disadvantages young people from low-income families. Spoken language skills are one of the strongest predictors of a young person’s future life chances. On school entry, economically disadvantaged children’s spoken language development is significantly lower than their more advantaged peers who are, on average, 19 months ahead in their spoken language development.[6] Left unaddressed, this gap widens, rather than diminishes, as students move through school. At secondary school, students’ GCSE results (at age fifteen) can be strongly predicted by their vocabulary at age thirteen.[7]

3.4 There is a significant disparity between the time and resources dedicated to the teaching of oracy in the independent sector, compared to the state sector.[8] This reinforces existing inequalities, with children from more privileged backgrounds taught to talk at school, while those from less privileged backgrounds who arrive at school with less language, provided with fewer opportunities to acquire it.


  1. All 11-16 year olds should have access to a high-quality oracy education

4.1 Whilst there is an emphasis on developing children’s spoken language skills in the Early Years, this needs to be sustained through all stages and phases of education to ensure all students are equipped with the age-appropriate oracy skills they need to thrive both in and beyond school.

4.2 At Voice 21, we have worked with hundreds of secondary schools to support them to embed a high-quality oracy education. We have learnt that access to effective, sustained professional development is essential to develop teachers’ confidence and capacity to teach oracy. Leadership of oracy is also vital. Our research has shown that schools with a confident Oracy Leader make more progress towards embedding high-quality oracy education.[9]


30 April 2023



[1] Nesta (2019). Transferable Skills in the Workforce. City of London Corporation, https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/assets/Services-DCCS/transferable-skills-in-the-workplace.pdf

[2] Deloitte (2019). Premium Skills: the wage premium associated with human skills. DeakinCo: Australia. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/au/Documents/Economics/deloitte-au-economics-premium-skills-deakinco-060120.pdf

[3] Teacher Tapp polling, Oracy Network, March, 2020

[4] Oracy APPG (2021), Speak for Change. Oracy APPG: London. https://oracy.inparliament.uk/sites/oracy.inparliament.uk/files/2021-04/Oracy_APPG_FinalReport_28_04%20%284%29.pdf

[5] Voice 21 (2022). Insights and Impact Report. Voice 21: London. https://voice21.org/insights-23/#:~:text=At%20Voice%2021%2C%20we%20think,to%20embed%20a%20high%2Dquality

[6] Communication Trust 2017, Talking About a Generation

[7] Spencer, S., Clegg, J., Stackhouse, J. and Rush, R., 2017. Contribution of spoken language and socio-economic background to adolescents’ educational achievement at age 16 years. International journal of language & communication disorders, 52(2), pp.184-196.

[8] Millard, W. and Menzies, L. (2016) ‘The State of Speaking in Our Schools’ London: Voice 21/LKMCo

[9]  Voice 21 (2022). Insights and Impact Report. Voice 21: London.