Over 80% of business leaders and parents support more time being spent on the development of young people’s spoken language and listening skills at school according to new YouGov polling released today. 


Increased access to technology is fuelling concerns among employers and parents with 69% of business leaders and 63% parents of children 18 and under, believing it has a negative impact on children and young people’s speaking and listening skills.


The polling also indicates that spoken language and listening skills are becoming increasingly valuable in the workplace. 


YouGov found that:


  • 71% % of business leaders would back the introduction of oral examinations counting towards young people’s qualifications. 
  • 68% of business leaders agreed that the growth of technology and AI will make spoken language and listening skills more important for progression at work.
  • 83% felt that strong spoken language skills unlock more opportunities to advance in their sector. 
  • 56% of business leaders state that these skills are more important for staff in their business now than five years ago and 64% believe that these skills will be more important in five years time.


These findings come as a new independent commission examining the vital skills of speaking & listening is launched today. 


The Commission on the Future of Oracy Education in England, chaired by education leader, Geoff Barton (outgoing General Secretary of ASCL), will provide a blueprint for a national entitlement for oracy education at all stages of statutory education in England. 



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 and increasing evidence and concern as to the impact of the inconsistency, quality and accessibility of oracy education in schools across England. Last week, Ofsted’s English education subject report identified major shortcomings in the current teaching of spoken language in schools.


Commissioners drawn from education, academia, civil society, the arts, health and business will explore and gather evidence on the economic and societal impacts of oracy education and outline an evidence-based framework for oracy education to ensure children have the spoken language knowledge, skills and attributes to thrive in education, work and life. 


The Commission’s launch comes as we approach the 50th anniversary of the publication of the Bullock Report – A Language For Life. In 1975, this landmark report asserted the pressing need to take speaking & listening seriously and to give oral language the status it deserved in education. 


At the launch today, Commission Chair Geoff Barton will call for a renewed effort to improve the provision and quality of oracy education and fulfil the recommendations of the Bullock report:


“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, and I am delighted to be chairing this independent Commission that will provide a blueprint for change. 


“As an English teacher and school leader for almost forty years, I have seen first hand the transformational impact of a young person finding their voice and then gaining the skills and confidence to use it. I sense a rising tide of support for oracy education from teachers, parents and business leaders. YouGov polling today shows that eight out of ten business leaders want more time spent on speaking and listening in schools demonstrating the ongoing impact these skills have throughout adult life and in the workplace.” 


“None of this is new. Next year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the Bullock Report – ‘A Language for Life’ – which asserted the need for oracy education to be at the heart of learning.  Now it’s time to realise that ambition.”


Speaking about the importance of the Oracy Education Commission, Commissioners said:


“The greater our understanding of the role of spoken language in a fair and just society, the better able we are to not only equip young people with the insights and tools required to succeed, but also to challenge the societal injustices that stand in their way.” – Rob Drummond, Professor of Sociolinguistics, Manchester Metropolitan University


“Place2Be had a theme of ‘My Voice Matters’ for Children’s Mental Health Week this year because we know that not having a voice, not being heard, is relationally damaging for our mental health. Counter to that, the ability to represent ourselves through expression, to speak in a way that can be heard and, importantly, really listening to how others are expressing themselves, is such a key part of mentally healthy communities, so I’m delighted to see this work being undertaken, and to be involved in this Commission.” – Sarah Houghton, Director of Mental Health Workforce Development, Place2Be


“It has never been more important for children to be able to understand the power of their authentic voice; I am delighted to be a part of this vital piece of work to ensure that as educators we provide the conditions for all children to realise this.” – Sally Apps, Education Director, Cabot Learning Federation


“‘For me, this Commision is timely. In a world where the ability to talk with confidence and to be accountable for what we say; this opportunity to shape the direction of children and young people’s oracy education cannot be underestimated.” – Sonia Thompson, Head Teacher, St Matthew’s CE Primary School


“I’m delighted to be joining this vital Commission. Through the National Theatre’s work with schools, over the last decade we’ve observed a steep decline in the teaching of creative and practical skills, like speaking, listening, creativity, experimentation, further exacerbated by the impact of the pandemic on young people. The National Theatre’s Speak Up programme now running in 55 secondary schools across England responded to this need. A broader refocus on oracy, as part of an entitlement to expressive arts learning for all young people at school, is vital. Not just so that we can nurture the next generation of talent, on and off stage, for the creative industries, but because confident self-expression and communication is fundamental to success in any profession. I look forward very much to hearing from experts in the field, and bringing my own experience both from the rehearsal room and from the National’s work in arts education to contribute to this important investigation.” – Rufus Norris, Artistic Director and CEO, the National Theatre


The call for evidence opens today [Friday] with the Commission publishing its final report and recommendations in September 2024. 




For media enquiries, please contact elizabeth.somerville@voice21.org or call Amy Gaunt on 07904 570 151. 


Notes to Editors


  1.   About the Commission on the Future of Oracy Education in England


The independent Commission on Oracy education in England is chaired by Geoff Barton and hosted by Voice 21, the national oracy charity.


The Commission, which will report in September, will:


  • Define the vision, values and intent of oracy education as part of a broad and enriching education.


  • Outline an evidence-based framework for oracy education which ensures children have the knowledge, skills and attributes to thrive in education, work and life 


  • Make recommendations for the implementation of a national entitlement to oracy education for all children across all stages and phases of statutory education in England.

Commissioners include:


Chair: Geoff Barton – Outgoing General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, former Head Teacher and English Teacher. 


  • Sally Apps – Education Director, Cabot Learning Federation
  • Jeffrey Boakye  educator, broadcaster, journalist and author of books including author of I Heard What You Said and Black, Listed
  • Stephen Coleman – Professor of Political Communication, University of Leeds and author of How People Talk About Politics: Brexit and Beyond
  • Christine Counsell – curriculum thinker, historian and author
  • Rob Drummond- Professor of Sociolinguistics, Manchester Metropolitan University and author of You’re All Talk: Why We Are What We Speak
  • Sarah Houghton- Director of Mental Health Workforce Development, Place2Be
  • Rufus Norris– Artistic Director and Chief Executive of the National Theatre
  • Sonia Thompson– Head Teacher, St Matthew’s CE Primary School and author of An Ethic of Excellence in Action





  1. About Voice 21


Oracy is the ability to articulate ideas, develop understanding and engage with others through spoken language and listening. Oracy skills are vital for success in school and in life. Voice 21 work with schools to embed high-quality oracy education which transforms the learning and life chances of young people through talk. They want to build a world in which all children can use their voice to thrive at school and beyond. Since its launch in 2015 Voice 21 has worked with over 2800 schools and 12,000 teachers across the UK, reaching more than 700,000 students.


Oracy has been shown to be as important as reading and numeracy in improving life outcomes for children. In its 2021 report ‘Speak for Change’, the The Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group highlighted the importance of oracy to improve academic performance, underpin literacy and vocabulary, support wellbeing and confidence, and enable young people to access employment and thrive in life beyond school.


  1. YouGov poll details


Parent polling


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 4242 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd – 27th February 2024.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB parents of children 18 and under. 


Business decision makers polling


All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1007 business decision makers. Fieldwork was undertaken between 26th February – 4th March 2024.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of British business size and region.


Funding for polling was provided by the British Academy, via an Innovation Fellowship partnership ‘Levelling up through Talk’ with Prof Arlene Holmes-Henderson (Durham University).