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Home > News and views > When the obvious is invisible

When the obvious is invisible

Oracy – speaking and listening – is so much a part of everyday life we can often forget it’s an acquired skill like any other

Ask a fish how they’re feeling about the water they swim in and you’d be met with a baffled ‘blub?’ The water is so much part of their world, that they might well struggle to notice it’s even there. It’s the same with talk. Spoken language is all around us. Chats at the office or in school, discussions with friends, family and your partner, or more formally during lectures or workshops; speaking is so ingrained in our day-to-day life for many of us that we tend to not even notice it. And therein lies a fairly serious risk.

Fish bowl

Oracy, just like writing well, is something that can and must be taught. Lots of schools spend time on this in class and in extra-curricular work, but 53% of teachers report that they’ve not received any training in the past three years on how to develop oracy, despite 68% of teachers saying that teaching oracy is important.[1]

Improving oracy skills brings many benefits:


  • Students learn from talk, and they learn through talk. We need to be comfortable with understanding spoken language in order to absorb what is being explained to us.
  • We also often need to verbalise our thoughts before putting them on paper. Structuring our thoughts better means we will write them down better.

School results

  • Research in the US shows that students who participate in debating tend to do better at their exams, and they have higher aspirations about what they want to do after school.


  • Being able to express yourself to your friends and family helps with feeling understood and more connected to the people around you. Those who struggle to express themselves can feel isolated.
  • Our award-winning Debating Mental Health project helped young people who struggled with anxiety to learn how to get their point across to others.


  • Education helps to build a person together with parents, the community and the culture in which we live. It also prepares us for the world of work. However, according to the Sutton Trust 2017 report, 97% of employers feel life skills such as communication are more important than academic qualifications.

What this means for educational inequality

If we agree that the outcomes listed above are desirable; then it follows that all students should have access to these opportunities. But not all schools offer opportunities to develop oracy skills, and therefore many students – often those in areas of highest need – are missing out. As a charity, we seek to supplement that gap at a practical level by working closely with primary and secondary schools. Through the Oracy Network and our membership of the Fair Education Alliance and the Communication Consortium, we also work towards closing this gap through policy changes.

It sometimes feels strange to campaign for something that is so obvious; ensuring that young people know how to talk well. But what is obvious to us is not obvious to all!

[1] “State of Speaking in Schools”, LKMCO, 2016

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