The lost art of speaking out loud!

By : Victoria Costello | May 4, 2021

Back in 1858, when the modern public exam system was first developed, educators needed to work out how they would assess the increasing number of students.

The newly formed exam board found that the only practical way to do this was to travel down with a set of questions and ask the students to write their answers down on paper.

This way they could take the papers away and mark them in their own time.

There was no way back then to record your answer on your phone and submit the answer.

And so we developed an education system that was based on written exams. We haven’t changed it since.

Rather than asking students to talk about their subject, every exam from Primary School all the way to PhD – where the small numbers of students need to present their findings out loud – are dominated by the written word.

So, What’s the problem?

The problem is that this doesn’t reflect life outside of school. Most of us spend more time explaining ideas, giving instructions or motivating staff through the spoken word.

But in a system that prioritises exam results and league tables, oracy or the ability to speak out loud has been crowded out of the education system. Young people leave school finding themselves ill equipped to speak confidently, to share their ideas and to thrive in the workplace.

When I was at school, every exam I took involved writing, but only one involved speaking:

German GCSE.

I didn’t need to speak in English once, to gain access to or succeed at University.

Today marks the publishing of the @appgoracy report on the state of Oracy #SpeakForChange. I link to today’s Times Article about it.

This report highlights the need for more emphasis on spoken language in our schools.

As many commentators obsess with the #futureofwork and #skillsforthefuture, we should be looking at the most human skills that automation will find it most difficult to replicate.

So it is no wonder that organisations from @linkedin to @mckinsey highlight public speaking and communication skills as one of, if not the most important skills gap right now.

Of course if you go to some of the most elite public schools in the country, they will still prioritise public speaking. They will teach rhetoric, have debating clubs and encourage their students to take every opportunity to share their ideas out loud.

This isn’t what we see in the state sector. Over the last 15 years, we at Speakers Trust have met almost half a million young people. Forty per cent or 10 students in every class do not have the confidence to speak in front of their peers.

This prevents young people from reaching their potential – and for our society of benefiting from their ideas. When too many young people from under privileged backgrounds lack a key skill for the work place, we see a lack of #socialmobility.

This is what we are seeking to address at @speakerstrust

Our mission is to provide the best learning experience that young people can find to build their confidence and develop their oracy skills. This way they are prepared for a future which increasingly involves sharing you ideas aloud.

We do this through face to face and remote workshops in schools, and now through self paced learning which we want to make available at no cost to every secondary student in the country.

To learn more about how you can help, or get involved, please visit us at