The impact of oracy on students’ literacy outcomes

Sarah Green | Newall Green High School

Project rationale 

Newall Green High School is a small 11-16 secondary academy which is part of The Prospere Learning Trust. It is located in Wythenshawe, South Manchester, which is one of the most socially deprived areas in the country. The proportion of disadvantaged students and those with SEND is well above the national average. In 2017, students’ examination results were among the lowest 5% nationally in English and Maths. 

In March 2018, Newall Green received an ‘Inadequate’ Ofsted Inspection report. The report stated that the school needed to rapidly improve outcomes for all students, particularly those who are disadvantaged or have SEND, improve leadership and management and improve the quality of teaching, learning and assessment. 

In May 2018, I was seconded to Newall Green High School as Assistant Headteacher to support the school’s development of whole-school literacy and oracy. Upon arrival at the school, it was clear that students’ language levels were so poor that they were hindering their progress and teaching was not providing students with opportunities to develop their reading and oracy skills. Inspired by School 21’s 2014 Ofsted report which states that ‘a strong focus on oracy… strengthens the quality of teaching’, I knew from the outset that my Impact Project needed to focus on the whole cohort of students at the school: ‘To what extent does the development of oracy lead to improved quality of teaching & learning and student outcomes?’ 

According to The Communication Trust’s ‘Talking about a Generation’ report, ‘Language difficulties are a defining factor in disadvantage. By the age of five, 75% of children who experienced poverty persistently throughout the early years are below average in language development’ (2017). Working at Newall Green, it is clear to see the effects of this and it means that we have a moral duty to ensure we close this language gap so that our students have the chance of academic success. In addition, Amy Gaunt and Alice Stott state ‘the oracy skills acquired by students at school are also highly valuable upon leaving school and entering the world of work’ (2018), therefore not only is it our duty to set our disadvantaged students up for academic success, it is also imperative that we help them to develop the oracy skills necessary to be successful beyond school. 

Baseline data 

In May 2018, all students’ reading ages were measured using the GL Assessment tests to baseline student literacy levels. Based on current year group cohorts for 2018-19, the percentage of students who had a reading age in line with their chronological age was identified: 43.8% in Year 8, 38.1% in Year 9, 36.1% in Year 10 and 29.2% in Year 11. In addition, an externally moderated Teaching & Learning Review in the summer of 2018 found that 50% of lessons observed were ‘Good or better’, with 35% of lessons using literacy strategies to support the learning of students.

Intervention & intended impact 

In the summer term, the school needed to re-establish the importance and urgency of whole-school literacy development and my first step was to write a whole-school Ofsted action plan focusing on our priority areas of literacy: supporting reading across the curriculum, the development of interventions, and oracy as an essential part of everyday teaching & learning and also as a standalone oracy curriculum. Literacy also became a key focus for subject curriculum development, lesson observation criteria, performance management and whole-school quality assurance. 

The next step was to plan and deliver a programme of high-quality staff CPD to improve the quality of teaching & learning across the school; developing the knowledge and confidence of staff in planning better opportunities for structured talk and focused reading in lessons was a key focus. The ultimate goal was to better support and meet the language needs of all students. Over the year, staff were trained to understand and use reading age data in a more strategic way in the classroom, they explored the Trust’s approach to using common reading strategies, which helped to developed their questioning skills as teachers, and developed a greater understanding of how students’ inferences and deeper reading skills can be supported through a range of oracy-based strategies (for example, using metalanguage, discussions to establish prior learning knowledge and developing tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary). 

Staff also received training on Oracy research, types of talk, Voice21’s Oracy Framework, dialogic teaching, reducing passivity through the development of listening skills and choosing stimuli for effective talk. This lead to the creation of a whole-school ‘Oracy Charter’, our ‘Four Pillars of Oracy’ (‘Say it again’; Agree, Build upon and Challenge speaking stems; Talk Trios; and ‘Think Together’ Group Roles) and subject-specific oracy learning mats. It also informed improvements to the English Faculty assessment protocols as they began to formally incorporate talk trio oracy assessments into their curriculum.

Following on from this, a standalone Oracy Curriculum for Year 7 and 8 was introduced, and oracy themed days for Years 9, 10 and 11 were planned to further strengthen student outcomes. Within the Oracy curriculum, our youngest students were trained how to ‘learn through talk’ and how to ‘learn to talk’ through explicit teaching of Voice21 talk protocols and their Oracy Framework. 

They studied the history of oracy and made links to their learning in English when developing their rhetoric writing skills in preparation for their end of year ‘Ignite’ speeches. Similarly, our older students had the opportunity to develop their confidence in speaking and their ability to use communication skills to improve their life chances through ‘Talk the Talk’ workshops.

Finally, the school’s interventions were improved through the delivery of ‘GROW@KS3’, an Institute of Education programme from University College London (UCL) for students whose literacy skills are below age-related expectations in the initial years of their secondary education. A small team of English teachers and Teaching Assistants were trained by staff from UCL and delivered oracy-based reading and writing interventions for 30 minutes, three times per week over a period of 10 weeks.

Impact data

Firstly, it is clear that the quality of teaching and learning across the school has improved as a result of this whole-school drive on oracy and literacy. Our externally moderated Teaching & learning Reviews show that between summer 2018 and spring 2019, the percentage of lessons judged to be ‘Good or better’ has improved from 50% to 74%, reducing the number of lessons judged to ‘require improvement’ from 50% to 21%. Whole-school quality assurance learning walks also confirmed the positive impact staff CPD has had on the quality of teaching & learning: in summer 2018, 35% of lessons made ‘good use of literacy strategies’ and this increased by 14% by spring 2019.

The impact on student outcomes is also clear. In the period May 2018 to January 2019, there have been some pleasing progress with student reading ages: a 13% increase in the number of Year 8 students reading at age-related expectations; a 19% increase in Year 9; a 5% increase in Year 10; and a 14% increase in Year 11. 

Moreover, the oracy-based ‘GROW@KS3’ intervention programme resulted in some positive outcomes. Of the 20 Year 7 students in the first cohort, 55% made good progress and, individually, there was some significant progress made.

For example, Student A had a reading age of 6 years 6 months in September 2018, was SEN K, PP and entitled to KS2 Catch-Up funding. His post-GROW reading age score was 9 years 0 months, which was an increase of 30 months in 10 weeks. Similarly, Student B had a reading age of 6 years 4 months in September 2018 and whilst he wasn’t SEN or PP, he was entitled to Catch-Up Funding. His post-GROW reading score was 8 years 4 months, which was an increase of 24 months in 10 weeks. Other students who did not make similar progress were negatively affected by their low attendance to school. 

In addition, student and staff qualitative data shows that the oracy days for students had a positive impact on their confidence in speaking. For example, when Year 10 students were asked to rate their confidence levels before their ‘Talk the Talk’ workshop, their year group average score was 2.75 out of 10, compared with their post-workshop score of 5.3 out of 10. Similarly, when Year 11 students were asked to rate their knowledge of oracy skills before their workshop, their year group average score was 4.06 out of 10, compared with their post-workshop score of 6.86 out of 10. One of the ‘Talk the Talk’ trainers commented on how one student ‘delivered a particularly impressive speech after suffering with nerves at the beginning of the day’ and how another student ‘explained what it was like living in Syria during war time… spoke factually, but from the heart, which created a sense of empathy and sympathy across the whole room.’ Therefore, the development of oracy strategies across the school not only has the potential to improve student academic outcomes, but it enables students to develop the social and emotional skills needed to become active citizens and effective communicators.

Finally, in the school’s most recent Special Measures monitoring inspection, HMI David Selby concluded that ‘leaders have identified that pupils’ weak skills in reading, writing and spoken English often restrict their learning’ and are now ‘ensure that developing these skills is strongly emphasised by teachers’.

He stated that ‘the school is innovative in its development of pupils’ oral skills’ and that teachers ‘are now skilled at using questioning to give pupils confidence to talk in class and so build their understanding’ (Ofsted, 2018) 

Research Ethics

To minimise ethical concerns with this project, I ensured that all quality assurance and student outcome data was anonymised. The target group for the project was not specified to a small group of staff or students; instead it focused on the rapid progress of the whole school. Permission was sought from Talk the Talk to use anonymised extracts from their feedback reports.


This impact project led to some clear successes: improved quality of teaching and learning; improved student literacy outcomes; effective oracy-based literacy interventions; and improved student confidence in speaking. The delivery of high quality staff CPD has ensured the school had staff buy-in and has led to positive dialogue amongst staff about how oracy can beneficial for all subjects. The project has been recognised as good practice by Vincent Ashworth, Senior HMI, who invited me to speak at the ‘Better for Children’ seminars in Halton (December 2018 and March 2019). 

One of the challenges faced was the long-term absence of an oracy teacher, which meant some of the new oracy curriculum wasn’t being taught by a specialist oracy teacher. However, now that all staff have been trained in oracy strategies and protocols, in future this challenge should be eased. 


1. Ofsted [14 March 2018] Full Inspection Report: Newall Green High School. 

2. Ofsted [17 June 2014] Full Inspection Report: School 21. 

3. The Communication Trust, Talking About a Generation: Current Policy, Evidence and Practice for Speech, Language and Communication, (London: Communication Trust, 2017)

4.Gaunt, A & Stott, A, (2019), Transform Teaching and Learning Through Talk: The Oracy Imperative, p. 7, Rowman & Littlefield


6. Ofsted [18 December 2018] Monitoring Visit Report: Newall Green High School. Available at


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