Voice 21: Our Speaking Curriculum

We want every child at School 21 to find their voice – metaphorically and literally.

Oracy is the ability to communicate effectively. At School 21, oracy is a moral cause. One of the biggest barriers to young people getting on is a lack of eloquence. Employers put good oral communication at the top of their requirements for employees. Yet we rarely teach it systematically in schools.

Whilst research has found that good oracy leads to higher order thinking and deeper understanding, on average a child in a deprived area speaks no more than 4 words a lesson.

Our aim as a school, therefore, is to elevate speaking to the same status as reading and writing. We have developed a framework for oracy with Cambridge University, which breaks down oracy into 4 distinct strands:

  • Physical

  • Cognitive

  • Linguistic

  • Social & Emotional

At the heart of good oracy is the dialogic classroom. A classroom rich in talk, in which questions are planned, peer conversations are modelled and scaffolded and the teacher uses talk skilfully to develop thinking. At the heart of a school culture we believe are a variety of opportunities for young people to develop confidence in talk and learn how to analyse and talk about talk. At School 21 we have evolved a series of opportunities:


  • Assemblies are in the round using a range of talk protocols.

  • Ignite speeches (like mini TED talks) give pupils the chance to talk in front of a large audience with no notes.

  • Harkness tables are a pedagogy for seminar style debates.

  • Philosophy for children gives pupils opportunities to discuss moral issues in depth.

  • Portfolio presentation evenings are when pupils tell their story of learning to an audience.

  • Exhibition evenings are where pupils act as tour guides to guests but also stand in front of their work explaining the thinking behind it.

  • Real World Learning placements are where students gain professional communication skills during two 18 week projects with businesses and organisations.

​All teachers at School 21 are oracy teachers. There is an understanding across all subject areas of how talk aids teaching, analysis and higher order thinking.

At the heart of each subject specialism is an understanding of how talk aids analysis and understanding of that subject.

"Oracy is to speaking, as literacy is to reading and writing, and numeracy is to maths."

Ignite Talks: a five minute speech without notes

The Ignite Talks event is held in the summer term. Every student in the year gives a five minute speech on a subject close to their heart, accompanied by 20 slides revolving behind them.

Writing and rehearsing the talks, deciding on which tones of voice to use, what body-language and so on is the key work in Oracy lessons for Year 7. The event involves the whole school community, including teachers, students and parents.

End of year performance

Students collaborate on writing and performing the end of year performance. This is a real challenge to their abilities to work together, discussing, debating and agreeing a workable end-product which they then perform to the assembled school community.

Edutopia: Oracy in the Classroom: Strategies for Effective Talk

School 21 develops confident students who can articulate their thoughts and learning by using strategies like discussion guidelines and roles and structured talk tasks.

The Oracy Project and Voice 21

We developed the Oracy Framework with Cambridge University as part of funding from a Education
Endowment Fund pilot.
In 2015, Voice 21 launched, informed by the innovative oracy teaching practice at School 21 and
the findings from the EEF pilot. They now work to support schools across the UK to develop their
oracy teaching and learning. Find out more at: www.voice21.org

This is the Oracy framework we have devised with Cambridge University: