Teaching School Blog

An Investment in Oracy


In my last post, I wrote about how we are using Voice 21 oracy strategies to make our ITT Professional Studies sessions more exciting. Combining talk tools with knowledge about the impact that great oracy can have in the classroom is a fantastic marriage of form and content.

However, having invested in enrolling several of our teaching and learning leads on the Voice 21 Oracy Pioneer workshops, we wanted to do more than just pay lip-service to the importance of talk in the classroom, and so we decided to put oracy at the centre of the Stour Vale Trust common INSET day on November 5th. Four schools, 400 teachers, 27 facilitators, 7 organisers and one purpose: to drive up standards through oracy. The INSET organisation was a superb example of how to engage teachers in a Trust-wide initiative. We have 7 teachers enrolled on the Oracy Pioneers project and it was this group that trained the other 20 facilitators in a ‘train the trainer’ session before half term.

Using a combination of the fantastic Voice 21 resources (see here for a sample

https://twitter.com/i/moments/1072790855730257920), and some ideas gleaned from other CPD sessions, we assembled a three-hour session which proved incredibly popular with all our teachers. We believe here at Stour Vale that we’re pushing at an open door – our teachers and our students are incredibly positive and independent in their learning, so a lot of good oracy is already taking place in our classrooms. However, we also believe that oracy is part of a wider educational landscape which includes several key concepts such as the vocabulary drive, a knowledge-rich curriculum, and the need to build strong curricula which enriches pupils’ cultural capital.


Throughout the sessions, we explored the importance of oracy in enabling and empowering students to take charge of their learning. We celebrated talk that is already going on in our schools by showing videos of pupils engaged in various activities, including our own Harkness discussion on Macbeth! (See here: https://www.voice21.org/single-post/2018/11/16/Oracy-Pioneers-Post-Redhill-School) . Using a number of articles provided by Voice 21, we also got teachers to talk about the importance of oracy using the Harkness concept, provoking a lot of discussion about how this would be a valuable tool in the classroom. We also introduced the idea of talk detectives as a way of assessing talk in the classroom. At the end of the session, teachers reflected on the various ideas to which they had been introduced and using a quadrant analysis grid we began to think about the next steps.


The session was incredibly productive, with teachers ready to introduce some quick wins into their everyday practice, but it also proved a fantastic springboard for further oracy work: at our leaders of learning meeting last week, we looked at ways that we can keep the oracy plate spinning, and this will include an oracy conference in the summer term. More on this in future blogs.

NB: Literacy, knowledge-rich curricula and the building of cultural capital are all at the centre of OFSTED’s new inspection framework, as evidenced in their annual report:

“… ensuring that children master literacy is a central issue of social justice. Children with poor literacy do worse at school. Young adults with poor literacy will struggle to get the best jobs. Nearly half of the people who end up in prison have literacy skills no better than an average 11-year-old. And parents with poor literacy are less well equipped to help their own children, creating an unfortunate cycle in which disadvantage and lack of opportunity in one generation are replicated in the next.”

OFSTED Annual report: 2018

First Professional Studies Session - 4 October 2018

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Our first Professional Studies session yesterday was an exciting event, not least because we were able to use our new facilities which included tea, coffee and biscuits! It was brilliant having all of our school directs and PGCE students together – it created quite a buzz, especially as it was the first time we’d all been together for a couple of weeks.

The focus was very much on what makes great teaching, and we used some really effective strategies from the Voice 21 oracy programme that many of our staff are on (see here for details). Our first activity was a warm-up which required each person to make a statement which would provoke argument and discussion – so we asked them what they would do if they were in charge of education!

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This is a great way to get all participants involved in the session, but it also challenges oracy and thinking skills. At the end of the activity, we asked the trainees how they would use this in their lessons and several said that it would make an effective starter. Our Food teacher suggested that it would be great to begin a lesson on nutrition with the statement ‘If I was in charge of school dinners…’

We then went on to ask trainees to reflect on their school experience and the observations they’d been involved in. We placed some cards describing some of the characteristics of good teaching and they were given a couple of minutes to discuss how this characteristic could be applied to the work they’d seen.

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Most of these words/phrases could be easily applied to their observations, although we also noted that features could be combined. It was interesting also that one student suggested ‘passionate’ walks hand-in-hand with resilience: we don’t give up on pupils/groups and that is where true passion lies.

We’re putting research at the heart of our training, so we ended with another great activity inspired by the Voice 21 materials: the Harkness model of discussion. In groups, we gave the trainees a text to read on what makes great teaching (all of the following are available on line except for Alison Smith’s article in the NATE magazine).

  1. Hashi Mohamed ‘Telling Children ‘hard work gets you to the top’ is simply a lie’

  2. ‘Examples of Ineffective Practice’ from Robert Coe et al’s ‘What Makes Great Teaching’

  3. ‘What I know, what I remember, and what no student has ever told me’ by Alison Smith in NATE’s Teaching English magazine (Issue 14, Vol 11, 2017)

  4. ‘What makes a great teacher: the 7 key attributes’ by Shaun Killian

Once they had read the articles, I asked them to discuss the content and its relevance to their work.  I appointed one person from each group to observe using the Harkness model of recording. You can find out more about the Harkness model here https://perspected.wordpress.com/2016/12/10/how-to-harkness-strategies-and-advice/

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The Harkness model is an interesting way of mapping talk (and thus also assessing it); it required a little more setting up time than we gave it I’m afraid and I’d love to do it more justice. However, the discussions were fruitful and the mapping looked a little like this:

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Evaluating the discussion revealed the added incentive to contribute, given the fact that an observer was mapping every contribution! Interestingly, I mapped a discussion with some teachers recently and it was fascinating to feed back on who dominated and who involved others in the discussion etc.

At the end of the session, the trainees were all appreciative of the tea, coffee and biscuits. Oh, and they also thought that they had acquired a number of new skills, strategies and ideas to take into their planning.


A new school year - Autumn 2018

This year has been an incredible one for school-direct recruitment. We boosted our cohort from 5 trainees last year to an amazing 16 this year: we have 13 trainees in our secondary schools and 3 in our primary schools. This success is the result of the wonderful collaborative work that went on throughout the year, the support we have from our partner schools and accredited providers, and of course the continuing success of the outstanding schools that we work with. It is this continued success that makes our schools such fantastic places to work and train in – our trainees are immersed in an environment that is rooted in excellence for all and a real drive and enthusiasm for deep knowledge rich learning. They learn from outstanding practitioners and thrive on the support and mentoring that we provide.

Talking of knowledge-rich learning, this year we are taking all our trainees to Manchester to attend the Chartered College Early Career Conference on October 27th. Last year’s event was extremely rewarding with a number of great speakers all of whom offered expert insights into the teaching profession. The Conference is a chance to get together, mix with like-minded individuals and browse all the really interesting books that will be on sale! The fact that our trainees are giving up a Saturday shows how committed they all are – so if you’re on a train from Birmingham to Manchester on October 27th, don’t be surprised by the troupe of teachers who will be hogging the coffee trolley!

Of course, nothing stands still and we’re already looking to next year and we want to beat this year’s numbers! We have a Get into Teaching Event at Redhill School on October 24th at 10.00 – book here if you want to reserve a place. You will get a chance to find out more about our courses (primary and secondary) and you will also be able to meet the tutors, mentors and representatives from University of Worcester. If you’re interested in training to teach in our outstanding schools, we’d love to see you there.


ITT bulletin - Spring 2018

Welcome to the first ITT bulletin from Stourbridge Teaching School Alliance. It’s almost the end of January and our school direct students are about to embark upon their second placements. Time flies! It only seems five minutes since they began the course and now they are seasoned professionals plying their trade in their new schools and no doubt impressing everyone with the progress they’ve made.

Current School Direct Teachers

It’s fantastic to have so many school direct teachers around our schools. I want to call them teachers as ‘trainee’ or ‘student’ doesn’t do them a service: the knowledge, expertise and sheer professionalism they bring to each of their schools is inspiring. There were 9 school direct teachers attending their first professional studies session at Redhill School on January 19th and their presence provided a real buzz around the school. The first Professional Studies session focused on their own personal development and setting targets for this placement and we were all impressed by their confidence.

All school direct students placed at Redhill will be spending some time at Olive Hill Primary school on 5th February. Thank you to Olive Hill for hosting them this year. 

For their post-16 experience, all Redhill school directs will be spending a day at King Edward VI College on 6th February. Again, a big thank you to King Edward's for this opportunity. It’s a real treat for our students to experience teaching and learning in one of the nation’s top post-16 colleges.

Finally – and this is exciting – a big congratulations to two of our trainees who have already secured teaching posts for September 2018.

Work experience and school placements

There has been a big increase in post-16 interest in work experience, with a number of post-16 students placed through King Edward VI Sixth Form College. The students that have visited and worked with our schools have been a credit to the college and we hope that when the time comes they will consider STSA for their training!


Recruitment across the alliance has been excellent and we have already exceeded our total number of confirmed placements compared to this time last year. We have also been very busy interviewing potential applicants over the last few weeks, so it looks very much like we will eventually exceed last year’s final numbers. Several of the schools across the alliance – Redhill, The Earls and Holy Trinity in Kidderminster – have confirmed placements for Sept 2018. The quality and calibre of applicants continues to impress and we have a great deal of optimism for the future of education!



The recent Train to Teach Event at Edgbaston Cricket Ground was well attended and we had a great deal of interest in the Alliance from several potential registrants who were not put off by the steady snowfall that covered the Edgbaston pitch!

Match postponed...

Match postponed...

STSA Open Morning: Redhill January 25th 2018

Redhill hosted an STSA Open Morning on Thursday 10.00 - 12.00. The event was well attended and generated a great deal of interest and some really positive feedback. It was great to see teachers who have trained with STSA and are now teaching in schools within the alliance talking about their training experiences in such an enthusiastic and informative way. The University of Worcester also came along to provide lots of information about the university course. Current trainees also spoke about their own experiences which the audience found extremely useful.

Look out for future information events and book online on the STSA website.


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Future Events

The Black Country Teaching Schools Collaborative will be hosting a train to teach event on March 27th at Windsor Business Centre, from 5.00 – 7.00pm. We will also invite next year’s confirmed applicants along to keep in touch. If you are interested in attending the event, please visit our 'New Events' page to book your place.

Finally, thank you all for your continued involvement in ITT across the alliance. We have built some exciting links over the last few months and we know that this will ensure the continued provision of quality training to the next generation of professionals.