Learning to speak with confidence in Primary School

We speak to people every day. Oral communication is an integral part of our everyday life, and we use it as much as we use numeracy and literacy skills. So why aren't we teaching our children to speak clearly?

First impressions at work, job interviews and networking can all be impacted by our communication skills - not just what we know, or the words we choose to use, but the way in which we speak. Recent studies have shown that school closures have negatively impacted pupils’ speaking skills, but even before the school closures, with a growing focus on the ’3 Rs’, oracy has become a neglected skill.

Throughout England, a survey has shown that a growing number of four and five-year-olds need more help with language, with an increase of 25% needing extra support in comparison with last year, and, of the 58 primary schools that were surveyed, 98% had concerns about their pupils’ speech and language development. (Lockdowns hurt child speech and language skills)

These are worrying statistics, and it has been suggested that government-run “catch-up” plans alone will not be enough to stop this trend.

At the moment, the english curriculum aims to teach students to participate in debates and make formal presentations, but when are we going to teach our children the fundamentals of speaking? When are we going to teach them ‘How to use good eye contact, how to speak clearly, how to use their voices with confidence. Learning to address an audience is a skill that needs to be taught first, then cultivated and encouraged.

Of course, it is important to be able to construct an argument and understand opposing viewpoints, but this must be underpinned by the building blocks of good oracy skills. This isn’t just old-fashioned ideas about elocution and enunciation resurfacing from the past - studies show that poor speech development can actually have long-term effects on learning, employability and social mobility. We need to find solutions.

Programmes like the Mighty Oak Public Speaking Programme are finding ways to solve the oracy skills deficit in our primary schools’ curriculum. Focusing completely on the delivery and less on the content, the aim is for children to learn how to address an audience in an engaging and articulate manner. In fact, the majority response from children who have completed the programme is that they now feel confident.