Voice 21: Improving Oracy (re-grant)

The Voice 21 Oracy Improvement Programme supports schools to develop pupils’ use of speech to express their thoughts and communicate effectively. Participating schools were asked to devote one hour a week of lesson time to developing spoken language, and received materials and training in oracy-based approaches. 


Key Stage 3

Key stage


Cross curriculum


EEF Summary

School 21 is a free school that has been widely praised for its approach to oracy. The EEF funded this pilot of the Voice 21 programme to test the feasibility of the programme and its evidence of promise, and to assess the reliability of the oracy assessment measure developed by School 21 in collaboration with the University of Cambridge as part of a previous EEF-funded project.

The findings of the pilot suggest that the Voice 21 approach is promising. The programme was well received by teachers and all school staff reported some improvements to pupils’ oracy skills. Teachers also felt that the programme could be implemented in most schools.

Although teachers were not confident that the observed improvements to oracy skills would have an immediate impact on attainment, some felt that there could be longer-term academic benefits. This pilot did not collect any quantitative data on academic outcomes.

The oracy assessment measure, tested as part of the pilot, had limited reliability, and should be adapted or replaced for any future evaluations. Given the evidence of promise for the programme, the EEF will explore options for conducting an efficacy trial to test the programme’s impact on academic outcomes.

Research Results




Is there evidence to support the theory of change?

Yes, but limited

All school staff reported some improvement to pupils’ oracy. Oracy was also measured using the School 21 assessment and was found to have improved. However, given the limited reliability of the assessment, and the lack of a comparison group, we cannot conclude from these results that the programme improved oracy. The pilot did not measure impact on academic attainment.

Was the approach feasible?


The programme was well received across the pilot. Teachers felt it could be implemented in most school contexts, given the necessary support from senior leadership.

Is the approach ready to be evaluated in a trial?

Yes, with some changes

A clear definition of the programme’s core components is needed before it can go to trial. More work should also be done to improve the oracy assessment measure so that it produces reliable data. Alternatively, another suitable attainment measure could be selected.

Evaluation info





Key Stage

Key Stage 3

Start date

October 2015

End date

June 2018

Type of trial

Pilot Study

Evaluation Conclusions

  1. Teachers reported that pupils’ oracy skills improved as a result of the pilot; assessment results also showed that pupils’ oracy skills improved. However, as there was no comparison group, it is not possible to say whether these changes would have happened anyway.

  2. Many schools were beginning to develop a whole-school oracy culture by the end of the programme, but felt that only limited change was achievable in one year and when focusing on only one year group. 

  3. Most teachers were positive about the programme and agreed that it would work in most schools with minimal adjustments.

  4. The Voice 21 oracy assessment measure used in the pilot did not provide sufficiently reliable data. A revised or alternative impact measure would be needed for a trial. 

  5. Delivery was not uniform across schools, or within schools, in part due to an initial lack of clarity about which elements of the programme were mandatory and which optional.The core components of the programme would need to be clearly articulated at the outset of a trial while maintaining the flexibility in delivery that was popular with teachers.

  1. Updated: 14th August, 2018

    Printable project summary

    1 MB pdf - EEF-voice-21.pdf

  2. Updated: 8th June, 2018

    Evaluation Report

    3 MB pdf - Voice_21.pdf

  3. Updated: 12th June, 2017

    Evaluation Protocol

    736 KB pdf - Character_-_Voice_21_protocol.pdf

Full project description

The Voice 21 Oracy Improvement Programme supports schools to develop pupils’ use of spoken language to express their thoughts and communicate effectively. The aim of the programme is to improve these oracy skills with the expectation that this will improve wider academic outcomes.

 The one year pilot programme was based on School 21’s Oracy Skills Framework and consisted of:

  • one hour per week of lesson time dedicated to developing four key areas of spoken language: physical, linguistic, cognitive, and social and emotional;
  • materials for an oracy curriculum, including a mandatory unit that prepared pupils to do a five-minute individual talk;
  • activities to promote an ‘oracy culture’ in the school, including building oracy into assemblies and cascading the principles of oracy to teachers and staff; and
  • use of an oracy assessment measure developed by School 21 in collaboration with the University of Cambridge. 

The aim of the pilot evaluation was to test the feasibility of the programme, its evidence of promise, and the reliability of the oracy assessment measure.

The Voice 21 team provided two days of training to a designated oracy lead at each school at the beginning of the programme. Additional training and support was available on request throughout the project. The oracy lead was responsible for cascading the training to other teachers involved in delivery.

Twelve schools were recruited to the pilot, but one dropped out before delivery started. The programme was designed for Year 7 pupils, but one school delivered it to Year 8. Initial training took place at School 21 in July 2016; schools delivered the pilot from September 2016 to July 2017.

The programme was developed as part of a collaboration between School 21 in East London and the University of Cambridge, with funding provided by the Education Endowment Foundation. This pilot was delivered by Voice 21, School 21’s charitable outreach arm.