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Geoff Barton to lead oracy commission for Voice 21

Outgoing union boss Geoff Barton will lead a commission on oracy to build a blueprint for a “national entitlement” across “all stages” of education in England.

Barton, who will stand down as general secretary of the ASCL leaders’ union next month, was an English teacher and long-serving head before he was elected in 2017.

Labour announced last year that its curriculum review will “explore how to weave oracy into lessons throughout school” if it wins power.

The commission is likely to influence the party’s thinking on the issue.

It is backed by Voice 21, which is part of Big Education, an academy trust and charity co-founded by Peter Hyman, one of Sir Keir Starmer’s closest advisers.

The commission “has been set up in response to the growing recognition of the importance of spoken language to children’s learning and life chances”, Voice 21 said in a press release.

They also pointed to a recent English subject report from Ofsted, which found the teaching of reading has “improved markedly” but the curriculum for writing and spoken language is “less effective”.

And they shared YouGov polling that found more than eight in 10 parents would support more time being spent on oracy. Over six in 10 feared technology has had a negative impact on speaking and listening skills.

Academics and school leaders join commission

The commission will report in September and outline an “evidence-based framework for oracy education which ensures children have the knowledge, skills and attributes to thrive in education, work and life”.

It will also make recommendations for the implementation of a national entitlement to oracy education for all children.

Christine Counsell

Joining Barton on the commission are Cabot Learning Federation director Sally Apps, University of Leeds professor Stephen Coleman, curriculum guru Christine Counsell and professor of sociolinguistics Rob Drummond.

Also on board are Sarah Houghton from mental health charity Place2Be, National Theatre chief executive Rufus Norris and Sonia Thompson, head of St Matthew’s CE Primary School in Birmingham.

Barton will say today that “as society changes so rapidly around us and we observe the rise of the robots, it is time to take the essential human skills of speaking and listening and move them centre-stage”.

“We already know that spoken language opens doors to new knowledge, transforms our ability to learn effectively, and reaffirms some of the most important skills needed in a vibrant democracy – the ability to persuade, analyse, debate, disagree agreeably and listen critically.

“These are essential skills for a modern citizen. Oracy education has never been needed more,” he added.

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