The problem

On average an inner-city child speaks only four words per lesson. Yet Improvements to standards of spoken literacy in our schools have been shown to have positive benefits for social mobility and student’s critical thinking and reasoning skills, wellbeing, confidence and self esteem, civic engagement, and employability.

Teachers lack expertise and confidence in teaching oracy and are unlikely to receive training. In fact, 57% of teachers say they have not received any training in oracy in the last three years, and 53% would not know where to look for support, resources or for information if they wanted it.

Despite a wealth of evidence from educators, academics, economists and employers as to the importance of spoken communication, oracy currently has meagre status within our education system with very few schools actively teaching the skills and knowledge young people need to thrive as speakers.

The solution

Voice 21 aims to lead a big, irreversible change in the education system so that state schools in England give oracy the same status as reading and writing.

Their mission is for all children and young people, regardless of their background, to have access to high quality oracy education enabling them to develop the communication skills and confidence necessary to thrive in the 21st Century.

57% of teachers say they have not received any training in oracy in the last three years

Work in action

Voice 21 was launched in 2014 by innovative educational charity the 21 Trust. Based on methods and approaches developed at School 21 in East London, Voice 21 supports schools and teachers across England to develop student’s speaking skills and improve the quality of talk in their classrooms.

They also work to raise the status and understanding of Oracy with parents and the wider community of policy makers, business leaders and politicians.

Big Change is now supporting Voice 21 to expand and scale this pioneering programme – helping them to focus on those areas of greatest need across the country, build sustainable capacity in schools and across the teaching profession, and embed change within the education system.

The Big Changers

Peter Hyman, Executive Head Teacher & Founder of School 21

Peter Hyman is co-founder and the headteacher of School 21. Prior to setting up School 21 and 21 Trust he worked in several schools as a teaching assistant, history teacher and deputy headteacher, and before that was a strategist and speechwriter for British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Beccy Earnshaw, Director Voice 21

Beccy became Director of  Voice 21 in 2015 having previously been Founding Director of Schools NorthEast (network of 1500 Schools). She has also worked for The Children’s Commissioner for England, The Electoral Commission, The Hansard Society and BBC Parliament.

Ed Fidoe

Ed Fidoe, is co-founder of School 21 and founder of the London Interdisciplinary School. After leaving McKinsey in 2010 to start School 21 Ed has also advised leaders at Cambridge University, the London School of Economics, ARK Schools, Teach First, and Eton College. He is also the co-founder of EDSPACE, a co-working space for innovative education companies. Previously he was a theatre producer.


Voice21 and the English Speaking Union have used their insight and convening power to start the first All Party Parliamentary Group on Oracy, championed by MP Emma Hardy. The group will launch its inquiry on the state of oracy education in the UK this summer.

Since the launch of Voice 21, they have:

  • Developed an online learning platform with an extensive toolkit of curriculum and teaching resources and guides for teachers, accessed by over 1500 teachers and school leaders.
  • Directly trained over 600 teacher, working in 250 schools. In partnership with Cambridge University Voice 21 have designed a nationally accredited Oracy leaders programme, to be launched in 2018.
  • Undertaken research with both LMKco and the Education Endowment Foundation to build the case for change.
  • Started to explore partnerships with ICAN, EY, Sutton Trust, NCS and Ashoka, to improve advocacy and scale.

Voice 21 have also been internationally recognised in the HundrED top 100 global education innovations.

Voice 21 have directly trained over 600 teachers, working in 250 schools