Listen & Learn About the History of Oracy

Updated: Dec 16, 2019



“You have to know the past to understand the present.” - Carl Sagan


With this sage advice in mind we’re prepped to dig a little deeper into the history of oracy as pedagogy at the Voice21 Speaking Summit 2018


(If you haven't already, click here to start the journey with me in Part 1)


‘The Archeology of Oracy’ - Alan Howe

Alan Howe: one of the godparents of oracy education along with Neil Mercer, Paul Warwick, Rupert Wergief et al delivers some answers with ‘The Archeology of Oracy’

Alan Howe at the Speaking Summit Jul 2018

Howe walks us through his own story with oracy and his perspective on the history of oracy in eras - an excellent bit of analogous storytelling, building themes from notable quotes.


So we're taking a quick trip through time, from the 1920s - 2010s. Viewing the development, the ups and the downs of oracy as pedagogy. I've highlighted quotes and made comments for easy reading.


(Check out Alan Howe's excellent slideshare for more detail)


Oracy the ‘Prescriptive era’ (1921-1925)


Speech training must be undertaken from the outset...it is emphatically the business of elementary school to reach all its pupils who either speak a definitive dialect, or whose speech is disfigured with vulgarisms, to speak Standard English and to speak it clearly [teachers] have to fight against evil habits of speech, contracted in home and speech” - Newblot

Well...everything's got to start somewhere. It does make me wonder though, did Newbolt see local identity as a disease? If so, was he the doctor? Did he have a cure for ‘what ails ya?’ - is this what he had in mind?


Oracy the ‘Corrective era’ (1925)



“We have in mind mainly the correction of faulty vowel sounds and slovenly articulation...it does not follow that dialect (whatever may be understood by that word) will be extinguished, even though the man who uses one speech in his native town of family circle may be using another when he is addressing strangers”

You can see there’s some link between speech and belonging to a community as a positive thing here and I get it, you need to be clear to be understood, but there must be more to oracy than that?...


Oracy the ‘Permissive era’ (1960s - 1970s)


“[for children it] becomes important for them to communicate - to discuss, to negotiate, to converse - with their fellows, with the staff, with other adults…[oracy is to be] taught by the creation of the many and varied circumstances to which speech and listening are natural responses.” Kingman committee

“Oracy comes from practice in a specific situations, whether these occur naturally on the classroom or are created as a specific teaching devise...speech becomes clearer in the necessity for communication.
The main job of the teacher is to provide situations which call forth increasing powers of utterance” - Wilkinson

This is much more student focused and with a sense of drawing out or eliciting communication rather than dictating it. By the way this is also the where the term ‘oracy’ was coined by Andrew Wilkinson.


“[it is] far more reasonable to think in terms of appropriateness rather than absolute correctness…[the aim] is to enlarge his repertoire so that he can use language effectively in other speech situations and use standard forms when they are needed” -Bullock
“[when pupils are] required to use language to grapple with new experience or to order old experience in a new way, that he is most likely to find it necessary to use language differently” - Barnes

It’s really striking how to hear these emboldened quotes from the ‘60s and ‘70s. There’s a true passion and vigor in the presentation of process, context - oracy as a skill, and as a method for explorative and constructive learning.


Oracy the ‘Democratic / Participation era’ (1980-1990s)


“A democratic society needs people who have linguistic abilities which enable them to discuss, evaluate, and make sense of what they are told, as well as, being able to take effective action on the basis of their understanding...otherwise there can be no genuine participation, but only the imposition of ideas of those who are linguistically capable” - Kingman

This quote really brings home the concept close to my heart...ears and head. Oracy as a means to interrogate your own thinking, not just as a tool to debate with and a means to persuade others to your point of view - it’s participatory - it’s with open ears and open minds, not just open mouths that oracy finds it’s true power.


Oracy the ‘Political era’ (2010s)


“Oracy and spoken literacy have the potential to play a significant role in social mobility, but these tools are not currently utilised as well as they could, and should, in schools. In fact, too often the opposite is true; the most privileged in society are given the power of words and language to enable them to succeed in life whilst others are left behind”

Indulge me for a minute as we dig up an oppositional stance from the 1970s that still stands true in the minds of many today.

It is doubtful if children's talk in schools does much to improve their knowledge, for free discussion as a learning procedure at any age is notoriously unproductive” Stuart Froome

Oh boy...it’s politics time - better strap on your placard, pin a badge to your chest and chain yourself to the railings again...

An age old tug of war


These opposing perspectives sum up the main thoughts of the day - a split in thinking - if not caused by, then certainly propagated by opposing political view points.




Like it or not, we live in turbulent times and it’s no surprise to see this atmosphere reflected in educational policy - political machinations are but swings and roundabouts - simultaneously familiar and mundane like a playground, whilst also being full of spin, violent pushing and the inevitable result of cuts, bruised egos and children flying off course...you know...like a playground.

Final thoughts: ‘The Archeology of Oracy’ - Alan Howe


Since the 1920s there’s a clear upward trend of interest, perspective and action on oracy all the way up to today. From simple speech correction to interrogative, participatory learning in action.


Oracy has shifted from product - to process.


What is most striking to me is just how similar the viewpoints of the 1960’s, 70’s and 90’s are to today here at this summit in July 2018. You can feel the care, the commitment and the desire for genuine collaboration.


So what does it mean?


Is this history repeating itself, going round and round in circles? is this a revival of yesterday's wants for today's needs? is this action, or reaction?


Strive hard to be idealistic, but we should try just as hard to be realistic and not naive.


In many ways we can be burdened by the weight of history upon our shoulders but equally we're also standing on the shoulders of giants...or maybe turtles - you can't fool me, it's turtles - definitely turtles all the way down


But with all earnestness - whatever the case, the only certainty is that history is a process and we all have a part in, history is always in the making and whether we take action or not, whatever change comes to pass, we will have been -and are - a part of that change.


Try this message from Crash Course: World History on for size.

Next time we look at Mary Myatt as she urges that 'Effective teaching is dialogue between teachers and students'


But for now:


Let's Listen from the past - Learn from the past

before we Stand-up and Speak.



Listen, Learn Stand-up & Speak.


Part 1 - Part 2


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