Improving pupils’ self-confidence through a whole-school approach to promoting and teaching oracy skills

Michelle Khambhaita, Keighley St Andrew’s CE Primary

Project rationale 

I wanted to explore the effects of improved oracy skills on pupils’ social and emotional wellbeing, in particular their self-confidence. Having started working at a new school in September 2018, I was struck by the pupils’ lack of confidence when sharing their work or offering their opinions to a group and when addressing adults. My previous school had been focussing on teaching oracy skills and developing an oracy rich environment for about 2 years and I wanted to explore whether the marked difference in the self-confidence of the children at both schools was due to the oracy skills of the children. 

Research in the area suggests that there is indeed a positive correlation between improved communication skills and self-confidence. In a recent report by the Education Endowment Fund (EEF), which explored the impact of dialogic teaching, one of the key conclusions was that the intervention (dialogic teaching) was highly regarded by headteachers, mentors and teachers who thought that the dialogic teaching approach had positive effects on pupil confidence and engagement. 

In their research-based review of the Welsh curriculum Professor Neil Mercer and Dr James Mannion identified that social & emotional gains associated with effective spoken communication skills include increased self-esteem and self-confidence. Stephen Gorard et al also concluded, in their 2015 evaluation report of Philosophy for Children, that teachers and pupils generally reported that P4C had a positive influence on their wider outcomes such as pupils’ confidence to speak, listening skills and self-esteem. 

The wider study by Durham University (Gorad et al 2017) found that teachers mostly reported that positive effects were observed in pupils’ confidence in questioning both in P4C lessons and in other lessons too and that teachers attributed this change to P4C sessions. 

In the report “The State of Speaking in our Schools” Will Millard and Loic Menzies summarise research into the social and emotional benefits of good oracy skills identifying that: “Evidence from qualitative studies suggests that quality classroom dialogue between pupils and their teacher, or with their peers, might help them grow in confidence and self-esteem, build relationships with adults and their peers, and develop their sense of self and emotional intelligence. Teachers recognise oracy’s importance in pupils’ social and emotional development. 64% of survey respondents believe oracy contributes ‘a great deal’ to pupils’ social development and 48% say the same regarding pupils’ emotional development.” 

Intervention & intended impact 

At the start of the project I led an hour long training session for all teaching staff on oracy. This was the first training session on oracy the teaching staff had had and the practice of teaching good communication skills had not been a focus at the school prior to this training. The purpose of the session was to enhance the profile of oracy across school as well as introducing several changes to school practice, the impact of which has been measured in this study. A weekly oracy lesson was introduced in all classes with a focus on discussion. The headteacher agreed to email a weekly publication of “Picture News” which would form the basis of the discussions in each class. 

Whole body listening was introduced and teachers were asked to display posters, promote whole body listening and use the language of whole body listening with their classes. Talk rules were introduced and teachers were asked to create talk rules with their classes and promote and use these across the curriculum. Ideas were given of activities that could be used to promote good talk in classes including talking points and ideas for talk activities that could be adapted to be used across the curriculum. 

Impact data

I collected data from teacher and pupil interviews pre and post intervention. Each teacher in the 2-form entry school, from reception to year 6, was asked to answer the same set of questions. 

Teacher questionnaire results: 

In an attempt to avoid confounding results, teachers were unaware of the focus of the research, hence the varied selection of questions on the survey. Interestingly teachers report that the most significant impact of the intervention has been on self-confidence and the social and emotional aspects of the communication. Physical aspects of talk have also seen a significant improvement since the intervention began. The results for the teacher survey therefore indicate that teaching oracy skills does impact positively on children’s self-confidence. 

Pupil questionnaire results:

Two pupils from each year group in KS2 (year 3 to year 6) were asked the same set of questions and a word/phase analysis was carried out on the responses to determine which words were more prevalent in the children’s responses:

Question 1 – Describe how you feel if you are asked to present your work in front of your class? 


Word Occurrence Frequency Rank
feel 5 6.7% 1
don’t 4 5.3% 2
bit 4 5.3% 2
shy 4 5.3% 2
sometimes 3 4% 3
work 2 2.7% 4
class 2 2.7% 4
listening 2 2.7% 4
embarassed 2 2.7% 4
red 2 2.7% 4

Post intervention:

Word Occurrence Frequency Rank
work 10 9.5% 1
like 8 7.6% 2
good 5 4.8% 3
read 4 3.8% 4
loud 3 2.9% 5
confident 3 2.9% 5
hear 3 2.9% 5
class 3 2.9% 5
what 3 2.9% 5
feel 3 2.9% 5

It is interesting to see the shift in responses post intervention. The words ‘don’t’, ‘shy’ and ‘embarrassed’ being more prevalent pre intervention whereas ‘confident’, ‘like’, ‘good’ are more prevalent in the children’s post intervention responses. The results for the analysis of question one support findings from the teacher questionnaire. 

Question 2 – How often do you get to discuss your ideas with other children and adults in your class?

Pre intervention: 

Expression Expression count Frequency Promnience
we discuss our ideas 2 1.4% 39.4
not all the time 2 1.4% 45.5
but not all the 2 1.4% 46.2
quiet when we work  2 1.4% 73.3

Post intervention:

Expression Expression count Frequency Promnience
talk a lot in 2 1.6% 83.5
we talk a lot 2 1.6% 84.3
maths we talk a  2 1.6% 85

Again it is clear to see the change in attitudes post intervention with children using phrases such as “we talk a lot” as opposed to “quiet when we work.”

Question 3 – How easy it is to listen to other people’s ideas?

Pre intervention: 

Expression Expression count Frequency Promnience
it is boring 2 24 15.7
to listen well  2 24 30.3
difficult to listen 2 24 31.3

Post intervention

The marked differences in the vocabulary of the children is clear here with the obvious references to whole body listening as opposed to responses like “ it is difficult to listen.”

Question Pre-intervention mean Post intervention mean Difference
On a scale of 1 – 10 (1= not confident, 10 = very confident) how confident do you feel speaking to an audience? 4.7 7.25 +2.55

The pupil survey seems to support the views of the teaching staff with a significant increase in the mean score for question 4. 

Research Ethics

There were few ethical concerns as a control group was not used so all children received the intervention. One ethical concern was that teachers were unaware of the research question this was necessary in order to avoid confounding the data; once data had been collected, all staff were informed of the research focus and findings.


The study was well executed and produced interesting results which could promote future research questions. It was a straight forward research question with a clear focus. At first I was unsure about using a large sample size but it has worked well and has produced results that are interesting. Although the study indicates that good communication skills do improve the self-confidence of children the speed and depth of the impact was surprising, I was not expecting to get such significant results in the short amount of time the intervention ran for. Future studies into the impact of this self-confidence on attainment would be an interesting next step. 


Professor Tim Jay, Ben Willis, Dr Peter Thomas, Dr Roberta Taylor, Dr Nick Moore, Professor Cathy Burnett, Professor Guy Merchant, Anna Stevens (2017) Dialogic Teaching: Evaluation report The Education Endowment Foundation; Sheffield Hallam University.

Professor Neil Mercer and Dr James Mannion (2018) Oracy across the Welsh curriculum: A research-based review: key principles and recommendations for teachers, Oracy Cambridge.

Stephen Gorard, Nadia Siddiqui & Beng Huat See (2017) Non-cognitive impacts of Philosophy for Children, School of Education, Durham University.

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