DISCOVERING VOICES, CHANGING LIVES
The English-Speaking Union believes in the power of spoken communication. We help young people to ‘discover their voices’ – to engage with the world and to talk more confidently, to formulate and organise their ideas more effectively and, just as importantly, to listen. We work to put oracy – speaking and listening skills – at the centre of the school curriculum, and through our debate and public speaking programmes, competitions and cultural exchanges, we ensure that young people have the opportunity to speak up and make their voices heard.
Founded in 1918 to promote better communication between people of all cultures and countries, we now look forward to the next 100 years, working with those who need it most and helping them to change their lives and communities for the better.
97% of employers feel life skills such as communication are more important than academic qualifications
Life Lessons, The Sutton Trust, 2017
Research shows oracy interventions at younger ages are particularly effective and our flagship programme, Discover Debating, addresses this. A fun, games-led programme aimed at primary schools, it encourages students to discuss a wide range of topical issues with an open mind and delivers demonstrable progress in literacy and oracy.
As part of our centenary year, and our ongoing mission to target those most in need of oracy skills, we are offering Discover Debating free to 100 state primary schools with a higher than average proportion of pupils receiving free school meals, and/or for whom English is an additional language. By giving teachers the resources and skills to set up their own debate clubs (including lesson plans, CPD and mentor support) the programme encourages confidence about speaking up and creates a sustainable culture of debating in schools where this has not traditionally been the case.
I would recommend Discover Debating to other schools as the impact is obvious and clearly measurable in terms of oracy skills, but also in terms of enjoyment. Thanks to this programme children enjoy debating and hate the idea of missing it!
Teacher, Al Furqan Primary School
'I'm going to use my debate skills to change the world.' Devron, Discover Debating participant
‘Our children have lots to say but often they don't have the tools with which to say it. Discover Debating gives them those tools.’ Jan Knight, Teacher, St Mary's School
'Discover Debating has taught me to respect other people's opinions and to solve arguments without a lot of drama and problems.' Shiphrah, Discover Debating participant
What is oracy? Oracy is to speaking what numeracy is to mathematics or literacy to reading and writing. In short, it’s nothing more than being able to express yourself well.
Why oracy matters
The ability to express yourself is paramount. Whether you’re speaking in class, presenting yourself at interview, standing up for what you believe in or simply making friends, oral communication skills are an essential part of life. But there’s more to it than simply being able to talk. We want to speak, but equally, we want to be heard. We want our opinions to be valued, considered and invited. We want to be understood, and listened to. We want to feel we have a voice, and that we can make a difference. And to achieve this we need to work out what we think, how to assess differing facts and opinions, and to learn how to deliver our message.
Just as numeracy and literacy are learnt, so oracy skillsets – reasoning and evidence; organisation and prioritisation; listening and response; and expression and delivery – must be taught and, crucially, practiced for us to be proficient.
Giving young people the skills and the confidence to speak up and to believe in themselves has far-reaching effects. Not only does it improve academic achievement and employability, it’s a powerful tool in boosting social mobility and engagement and, perhaps most importantly of all, it enhances our sense of happiness and well-being, preventing the isolation that comes from feeling side-lined. As one of our alumni says ‘If you teach kids to debate you give them a chance to have their voice heard, and you give them the power not to be ignored’. Need more proof? Read more alumni stories to see the many ways in which the English-Speaking Union has helped to change young lives for the better.
Your support helps us in our vital work ensuring young people feel empowered, part of society and able to reach their full potential. Our work is only possible thanks to the generosity of our members and donors and we are grateful to all of you.