Oracy is to speech what literacy is to writing


Oracy is to speech what literacy is to writing and numeracy is to maths. Its analogy to literacy and numeracy emphasises its equal educational significance.

Oracy can be seen as an outcome, whereby students learn to talk confidently, appropriately and sensitively. Oracy is also a process, whereby students learn through talk, deepening their understanding through dialogue with their teachers and peers. An Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group has recently launched a new enquiry to improve oracy education in schools. There is a growing consensus across society including government, employers, teachers, and parents, about the importance of oracy in education. Without good oracy skills children and young people are hampered in social mobility, educational achievement, wellbeing and future employability.

Many children and young people who have behavioural difficulties, including many of those with social, emotional and mental health needs (SEMH), also have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). These needs often go unrecognised because behaviour can mask a child or young person’s difficulties with communication. At Bowden House School all students receive a full speech and language assessment as part of their induction. It has been shown that 85% of our students have significantly impaired speech, language and communication skills and hence significantly impaired oracy..

The speech, language and communication needs of our students include:

  • problems understanding what others say
  • difficulties expressing themselves clearly
  • difficulties with social communication.

Much like good literacy and numeracy, good oracy is achieved through teaching and cultivating a set of core skills. Our aim as a school is to target oracy skills, not only in individual speech and language sessions but also throughout the day, in all lessons. We aim to elevate oracy to the same status as literacy and numerousy. 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 skillfully to develop thinking.

At Bowden House School we have developed a framework for working on oracy with our students who have SEMH and SLCN. We have drawn on research commissioned by Voice 21 (an organisation working with UK schools to support the teaching of spoken communication skills) and undertaken by LKMco, (a think tank working across the education and policy sectors).

We have broken oracy into 3 distinct strands:

  • Listening and verbal comprehension
  • Speaking and expressive language
  • Social communication skills

Under each strand we have selected 11 stages in their development and written learning objectives for each of these stages. Students will all be working at the stage relevant to their individual learning level. All teachers at Bowden House are oracy teachers. Als well as the stage not age program across all subject areas to develop oracy there is the understanding of how oracy aids teaching, analysis and higher order thinking. ​


Blank, Rose and Berlin (1978) The Blank Language Model

Joffee, V. (2006) Story telling and vocabulary

Leahy and Dodd (2002) Comprehension and expressive language

Mercer, N. (2018) The development of oracy skills in school-aged learners. Part of the Cambridge Papers in ELT series. [pdf] Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Stringer (2006) Narrative and social skills

Wilkinson, A. (1965)The concept of oracy