Polka Theatre’s Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive Helen Matravers, Executive Director and Joint Chief Executive Lynette Shanbury, and the whole team are pleased to announce the launch of Talking Tales, a new two-year drama project to support Key Stage 1 teachers to strengthen pupils’ oracy skills, particularly for those disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Oracy is the ability to express oneself through speech. Much as good writing extends beyond being able to spell, oracy encompasses a wide array of important skills, including understanding the specific linguistic, cognitive, physical, and social-emotional tools and techniques required to speak and converse in a wide array of settings, and with people of all ages and backgrounds.

Talking Tales, which will run from September 2024 to July 2026, will focus on developing practice for teachers and Senior Leadership Teams in six primary schools, in the boroughs of Merton, Kingston, and Ealing, who will use drama to support oracy and provide the scaffolding needed for literacy skills.

Drama is the perfect lens through which to develop oracy skills, and Polka’s methodology gamifies storytelling and drama techniques to develop the skills encompassed by Oracy Cambridge and Voice 21’s Oracy Framework.

In schools, spoken language is not only taught, but is also one of the key methods of teaching – whether through teacher presentation or class discussion. Thus, oracy acts as the linchpin between learning to speak and learning through speech.

With a combination of teacher Continuing Professional Development sessions, practitioner-led drama workshops for pupils, teacher resource packs, and mentoring and support sessions, the Talking Tales programme aims to empower lead teachers to deliver supported training to the wider KS1 team to ensure all staff can integrate opportunities for developing oracy into all lessons.

The programme is supported by Paul Hamlyn Foundation through the Teacher Development Fund. The Teacher Development Fund aims to enable teachers and school leaders to develop their skills, knowledge and experience in order to embed learning through the arts in the primary curriculum.

Polly Simmonds, Head of Creative Learning at Polka, said, “We’re delighted to be a part of round seven of the Teacher Development Fund. We are looking forward to working with our partner schools and teachers to explore the impact of drama on raising oracy skills. Despite its emphasis in the National Curriculum, oracy – or speaking and listening – is no longer examined at any stage in the English education system. With the pressures placed on schools and teachers to achieve results in all examined areas, it is no surprise that oracy has fallen by the wayside.”

Head Teacher Michael Bradley said, “There is a significant majority of children coming into school with low levels of language development. This has an impact on the children’s readiness for the National Curriculum in Year 1. Drama gives children confidence to have a voice. Developing oracy is therefore a constant focus. It is not something that is ever ‘finished’.”

Moira Sinclair, Chief Executive at Paul Hamlyn Foundation said, “Learning through the arts can engage and inspire young people, support key educational outcomes and develop skills that prepare them for the next phase of their lives. For many young people, particularly those experiencing inequity and disadvantage, the only opportunity to gain access to arts education is at school. That’s why we are delighted to announce the seven partnerships that have received a grant from our Teacher Development Fund Round 7. We were impressed by the quality of applications and look forward to seeing how the projects equip teachers with the skills and confidence needed to provide quality and impactful education and learning through the arts.”

Polly Simmonds continued, “In the Speak for Change Report 2020, over half of teachers surveyed said their schools do not have a consistent approach to oracy development among students. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the development of oracy skills in young people. We hope that our Talking Tales programme will offer teachers a greater understanding of oracy and give them the skills to use drama as a way to support oracy and integrate this learning into all areas of curriculum.”

Polka Theatre is one of just a handful of dedicated children’s venues in the UK. Re-opening in 2021 after a major renovation, Polka continues to present a year-round programme of shows produced by Polka and from visiting companies. Polka also offers a full programme of creative learning activities for ages 0–12, with over 20,000 children taking part in the last year. Polka enjoys flexible rehearsal and workshop spaces along with two performance spaces: the Main Theatre has a 300-seat capacity, and the Adventure Theatre can seat up to 90 depending on the show format.