Oracy is brilliant! (But you *do* need someone to talk to…)

Earlier this year, Paul Warwick from Oracy Cambridge and Beccy Earnshaw from Voice21 gave a ‘double-header’ presentation for The Brilliant Club at the UCL Institute of Education in London. Especially secondary schools and colleges desiring students to engage more with education and life alike, this is a must read.

I have taken the liberty here of retrofitting an original article on this event from the Voice21 newsletter. First of all because I agree their work is vital to achievement and to the future of civic society in this country, but also because this talk illuminates the mutual reinforcement of oracy and Cooperative Learning.

In a nutshell, if you want to build complex communication skills, you must engage a wide variety of partners. For this you want simple, self-organising activities to micromanage, assess that engagement effectively. Enter Cooperative Learning.


speech bubbles

Oracy framework: Just add your voice!


The Brilliant Club is a charity with a mission to increase the number of pupils from under-represented groups progressing to highly selective universities.” 

Shared beliefs on solid foundations

My comments are inserted  into this extract from the italicised original article:

“In the January session, called ‘Promoting Oracy in the Classroom’, Paul [Warwick] first spoke about recent work carried out at the Faculty of Education in Cambridge, on developing an oracy skills framework and assessment ‘toolkit’.* Working in collaboration with teachers at School21 in Stratford, London, and funded by the Educational Endowment Fund, the work was founded on several underlying beliefs and principles:

  • (a) the development of students’ spoken language skills (oracy) is as important for their future lives as the development of their literacy and numeracy;

There can be no spoken language when 30+ learners are engaging with one teacher. The volume of communication can only be increased through peer-to-peer communication. The tight structuring of Cooperative Learning is the key to focusing this communication.

  • (b) they need oracy skills to participate effectively in classroom life and in wider society;
  • (c) like literacy and numeracy, oracy can be taught and assessed;

As for (b) and (c), Cooperative Learning lets you teach and assess effective participation in tandem with the oracy element (and subject matter, obviously). We have seen this in multiple schools now, where pupils down to age 10 negotiate the best from of collaboration, based on task complexity aligned with their group’s composition. This is a skill a great deal of adults in leadership positions do not possess today. This explains why the impact on employability figured prominently in feedback on my training sessions at Barking & Dagenham College.

The article continues:

  • (d) oracy is more likely to be recognised as an important part of the school curriculum if it can be assessed;
  • (e) teachers need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their students’ spoken language skills if they are to provide suitable guidance and instruction, and they need to be able to assess the effects of their teaching on students’ skills;

As for (d) and (e), the assessment aspect is especially crucial in relation to the “formal” recognition of oracy. Followers of this blog will already be aware of the overwhelming assessment opportunities afforded by Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns.

On that note, we have begun to unpick Hattie’s SOLO taxonomy as a potential solution to “assessment data overload.” I refer you to Hand in Glove; SOLO Taxonomy & Cooperative Learning on my ongoing action research with Berrymede Junior School in London. Durdan’s Park Primary, a SOLO school, is starting their Cooperative Learning training this month to increase the value of that programme. A tailored merger between Cooperative Learning and the Oracy programme seems equally obvious.

And the last point:

  • (f) there is thus a need for ‘teacher-friendly’ tools available for assessing children’s oracy at the age at which they commonly begin secondary school.”

“Paul asked his audience to reflect on examples of students talking in groups, presenting and engaging in ‘knowledge gap’ activities, considering how their skills might be developed in relation to the oracy skills framework.”

Here, I am trying to imagine teachers  in the audience from Berrymede Junior School, Barking & Dagenham College and the other schools with embedded Cooperative Learning. You would have been able spot them by the actual light bulbs going off above their heads:



Work and the world

The article then echoes the words of Professor Lee Marsden on the Cooperative Learning programme UK Tertiary in the 21st century – A Cooperative Learning Toolkit :

“… Tremendous pay-offs when it comes to the world of work … taking part and being a good citizen goes right across the board … If you can build this into a learning environment and have dividends outside the workplace as well…”

Marsden interview 01.GIF


“The common threads in both Paul and Beccy’s talks were social equity and the purposes of education. Embedding oracy in state education, as it is within the programmes of many private schools, can not only increase engagement with the curriculum. It has consequences for social mobility and employability, since ‘today’s job candidates must be able to collaborate, communicate and solve problems’ (See World Economic Forum). But beyond this, the oracy skills of individuals have a consequence for the development of civil society; we need people who can engage fully in society, weigh arguments without engaging in the polarisation so prevalent in current political interactions, and express themselves clearly and confidently in a range of contexts. The message is that, through a focus on oracy, schools can be the catalyst for fully developing students as members of society, whilst at the same time achieving high levels of academic success (See School21’s Ofsted report).

Here, on cooperativelearning.works, we have investigated the impact of Cooperative Learning civic society in our work with the Association of Muslim Schools and especially the Healing Fractures workshops. For more on employability, start with Cooperative Learning; (an) engaging business. These talks were well received by a diverse audience, who appreciated their relevance to the debate on widening participation in higher education.




Professor Neil Mercer ‘Oracy Cambridge: The power of talk’

*) Mercer, N., Warwick, P. & Ahmed, A., An oracy assessment toolkit: linking research and development in the assessment of students’ spoken language skills at age 11-12. Learning and Instruction, 48, p. 51-60 (2017).

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