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Home > What is oracy?

Oracy is to speaking what numeracy is to mathematics or literacy to reading and writing. Discover more about why it’s so important

What is oracy?

What is oracy?

Oracy is to speaking what numeracy is to mathematics or literacy to reading and writing. In short, it’s nothing more than being able to express yourself well across a range of contexts. It’s about having the vocabulary to say what you want to say and the ability to structure your thoughts so that they make sense to others.

Primary school pupils gathered inside a classroom

How do we measure oracy skills?

Our programmes, competitions and resources are based around four key oracy skillsets: reasoning and evidence; listening and response; expression and delivery and organisation and prioritisation. Just as numeracy and literacy are learnt, so these skillsets must be taught and, crucially, practised in order to develop proficiency.


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Why oracy matters

With employers now rating communication skills as their highest priority, above even qualifications, the ability to express ideas is more important than ever before. Yet oracy receives much less attention in the school curriculum than literacy and numeracy. Indeed, a recent study estimated pupils contributed on average just four words per lesson, while another revealed that children with good communication skills are four times more likely to get five 9-5s at GCSE. Our own research conducted by Censuswide found that more than half of adults surveyed (52%) with children aged 5-9 years old are struggling to make friends because they lack self-confidence in speaking to other children. And almost nine out of ten (85%) respondents in the 16-24 year old age group think receiving specific support at school for speaking and listening (oracy), would have helped them progress better in their career and life generally.

A clos-up of a young girl pupil sitting inside a classroom wearing contact lens glasses and holding a piece of paper.

What are the benefits of teaching oracy?

The benefits of oracy skills go far beyond academic achievement and employability however, they boost a whole range of social, emotional and interpersonal skills, including self-confidence, self-awareness, resilience and empathy. Having the skills and confidence to speak up and believe in yourself has also been shown to enhance our sense of happiness and well-being, preventing the isolation that comes from feeling side-lined. As one of our alumni says, ‘If you teach kids to debate you give them a chance to have their voice heard, and you give them the power not to be ignored’. Need more proof? Hear from some of our alumni about the many ways in which the English-Speaking Union has helped to change their lives for the better.

A male and a female secondary school students sitting down. The female is wearing lens glasses and writing on a notepad with heads bow and a smile. The male has both thumbs finger up and looking at her writing. There is a mobile phone and stica transparent plastic bag.

Oracy - the facts

  • Disadvantaged children are 2.3 times more likely to be identified as having speech, language and communication needs than those in more affluent areas (The Communication Trust)
  • In many parts of the country, over 50 per cent of students start school lacking vital oracy skills (The Communication Trust)
  • Young people who cannot express themselves verbally may suffer from behavioural problems, emotional and psychological difficulties and, in some cases, may descend into criminality (Owen)
  • Some pupils in inner-city classes contribute on average just four words per lesson (National Literacy Trust)
  • A focus on oral language skills is especially important for the development of a range of reading and writing skills in Key Stages 1 and 2 (Oracy APPG)
  • 79% of secondary state school teachers (almost 4 in 5) think that developing their students’ confidence and competence in spoken language and listening skills would make the students more employable (Teacher Tapp polling for Oracy Network, March 2020)
  • The UK’s poorest children start school 19 months behind their wealthier peers in language and vocabulary (National Literacy Trust)
I've really enjoyed the variety of topics that we get to speak on. In our history with the ESU we’ve spoken about everything from the commercialisation of Pride to whether meat should be banned!


Schools' Mace participant 2023

The difference oracy makes

  • Children with good communication skills are four times more likely to get five A*-Cs (9-5s) at GCSE (Better Communication Research Programme)
  • High-quality spoken dialogue in primary classrooms can significantly improve children’s educational attainment, from improving SAT results in maths and science to improving reading, writing and reasoning skills (The Communication Trust)
  • Cognitively challenging classroom talk for children in Year 5 not only improves their language skills, but can also lead to gains equivalent to about two months’ additional progress in mathematics and science (Dialogic Teaching, Education Endowment Foundation)
  • Oracy improves literacy, including reading comprehension, spelling and writing (LKMco & Voice 21)
  • Spoken language plays a key role in cognitive development, helping children understand the world around them (LKMco & Voice 21)
  • 97% of teachers, 94% of employers and 88% of young people believe that life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication are as or more important than academic qualifications (Sutton Trust)
  • Evidence shows that oracy has a positive impact on academic and cognitive outcomes, self-esteem, well-being and mental health, social mobility, employability and civic engagement (Jay et al.; Hanley P P, Slavin R and Elliot L; Nagda B and Gurin P)
  • Social and emotional learning (SEL) which debate, public speaking and cultural exchange all foster, appear to be particularly beneficial for disadvantaged or low-attaining pupils (Education Endowment Foundation)
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