About us

Oracy Cambridge is based at Hughes Hall, in the University of Cambridge. Our aim is to promote oracy in schools an in the wider society. Our work includes writing papers for governments and other organisations (eg see here), providing training and consultancy for schools (see here), and organising conferences.

Neil Mercer: Director (@profneilmercer)

Oracy is important because we all need to know how to use talk to think effectively together.”

Neil Mercer is Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge, Director of Oracy Cambridge: the Centre for Effective Spoken Communication, a Life Fellow of the Cambridge college Hughes Hall and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. Before he joined Cambridge, he was Professor of Language and Communications at the Open University. He is a psychologist whose research has focused on the development of children’s spoken language and reasoning abilities and teachers’ role in that development. He has worked extensively and internationally with teachers, researchers and educational policy makers. In 2019 he was given the Oeuvre Award by the European Association for Research into Learning and Instruction for outstanding contributions to educational research. His books include Words and Minds, Exploring Talk in School, Dialogue and the Development of Children’s Thinking, Interthinking: putting talk to work and Language and the Joint Creation of Knowledge; and he was co-editor of the Routledge International Handbook of Research on Dialogic Education. Wikipedia page; Cambridge University page; Thinking Together

Paul Warwick: Associate (@PaulWarwick10)

“Oracy is central to successful engagement in education and society in the 21st century.”

Paul Warwick is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. He is  engaged in a range of research and teaching activities that link directly with his interests in oracy and dialogue in teaching and learning, primary science education, the uses of technology in teaching and learning, and the professional development of trainee and beginning teachers. Having previously worked with Neil Mercer, Ayesha Ahmed and School 21 to develop and oracy assessment toolkit, since April 2016 he has been the Principal UK Investigator on the Digitalised Dialogues Across the Curriulum (DiDiAC) project; this is funded by the Research Council of Norway and involves collaboration with the University of Oslo. The DiDiAC research investigates how students integrate micro-blogging into their learning, working with schools that have a twin focus on developing the uses of new technologies for learning and on helping learners to develop the ‘C21st. skills’ of communication, collaboration and critical thinking.

Ayesha Ahmed: Associate (@ayeshacamexam)

“Oracy can be used to combat the lunacy at large in the world – people believe a good speaker and talk is the key to working together.”

Ayesha Ahmed is a Research and Teaching Associate at the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge and a Senior Member of Hughes Hall, Cambridge. She is interested in the teaching and assessment of oracy and is currently researching assessment of group work.

James Mannion: Associate (@RethinkingJames)

“For too long, oracy has been overlooked in schools. In my view it’s the most important thing to develop in young people: a set of knowledge and skills that enables you to read the world and make your voice heard.”

James is a Bespoke Programmes Leader at the London Centre for Leadership in Learning (UCL Institute of Education), and the Director of Rethinking Education. He has an MA in Person-centred Education, and recently completed his PhD at Hughes Hall, Cambridge. His primary research interest is Learning to Learn; his PhD is a 8-year evaluation of Learning Skills, a whole-school approach to Learning to Learn that led to significant academic gains, especially among young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. James recently published a book on Learning to Learn – Fear is the Mind Killer – which has been very well received. James is a passionate advocate of teacher research and implementation science, and he regularly presents at educational conferences on these topics.

Pete Dudley: Associate (@DrDudley13)

“Spoken language is the best manifestation we have of human thought in action. We study our language and how we use it in its written forms in huge breadth and depth. But although we study formal rhetoric, and catalogue dialects and accents, we tend, in comparison, to neglect speech – oral language in it’s most natural form – because we are blinded to it by familiarity. To understand Oracy is to hold the key to how we think, reason, learn, influence and operate as a social species.”

Following many years as a teacher devoted to improving collaborative learning among pupils, Pete has led developments in the key role of talk in teacher learning and school leadership through (i) Lesson Study (which he introduced to the UK) and (ii) school networked learning communities. Both were the subject of his Masters and Doctoral Studies at Cambridge. Pete currently works as a University lecturer at the University of Cambridge. He is a City Fellow of Hughes Hall, Cambridge, and was formerly the Director of Education for Camden.

Lyn Dawes: Associate (@LynDawesMercer)

“Children are not often aware what sort of talk can help them to get the best from their education in school. Direct teaching of essential talk skills and understanding is straightforward and should be undertaken in every classroom. There is a clear advantage for children who learn to talk in school; therefore teaching and fostering oracy should be an integral element of education for all children.”

Lyn has taught in Primary and Secondary schools, specialising in science and spoken language. She has trained teachers at Bedford, Northampton and Cambridge Universities, and now provides ‘Talk for Learning’ in-service workshops for teachers. Lyn has published books for teachers and children, most recently Talking PointsTalking Points for Shakespeare PlaysJumpstart: Talk for Learning and Talk Box. Lyn writes a blog with photos and poetry on nature at lynwrite.com. For example, Loveliest of Trees –  a poem by AE Housman, set to music by Neil Mercer.

Alan Howe: Associate

“Oracy is our first and foremost language skill, and with it we build everything we know, as well as the other written literacy skills. A flourishing democratic society needs citizens who can argue, explain, negotiate, and listen with discrimination in order to distinguish truth from lies… now more than ever!”

Alan has worked at the forefront of educational change and improvement for the past thirty years, as a Local Authority Adviser and Inspector, and with the National Strategies, where he was a Senior Director leading initiatives for both primary and secondary phases in literacy and English teaching, assessment, and teaching and learning. As Director of the Wiltshire Oracy Project (1983-88) and National Oracy Project (1988-1992) he was part of the first significant movement in the UK to establish oracy as a major educational initiative.

Wendy Lee: Associate (@ewendylee)

“Oracy is the foundation of everything! The ability to use our language to support our understanding and to share and develop our thoughts and ideas. It doesn’t happen by accident. It needs teaching and nurturing to grow. At the simplest level, it is one of the greatest gifts we can give to children.”

Wendy is a speech and language therapist and has worked for 30 years across education, health and the third sector, with a focus on children’s communication. Until recently she was Professional Director at The Communication Trust where she led on a number of projects promoting the importance of oracy skills, as well developing evidenced interventions and inputting on national policy and research.

Laura Kerslake: Affiliate (@lskerslake)

“Being able to talk effectively with others, learning to confidently put forward your own views, listen to other people, change your mind and bring new ideas into discussion – these are key within education but also vital for children to be able to take their place as world citizens. That’s why a focus on Oracy in schools is so important”

Laura Kerslake is a final year PhD student in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. Her research focuses on developing younger children’s oracy and thinking skills and dispositions to facilitate effective classroom discussion from the earliest years of primary school. She is Co-Investigator on the Inquiring Science project at Hughes Hall, Cambridge, which develops resources to help children think like scientists in order to improve their media literacy. She has a background as a primary teacher, and regularly carries out Philosophy with Children work in schools.

Neil Phillipson: Affiliate (@Phillipson70)

“It’s through dialogue that we come to understand other people and their perspectives on the world. Whether the subject is physics, faith or football, without oracy there are limited opportunities for joining dialogues, for truly understanding each other, and for living a good life.”

Neil was a science subject leader in a secondary school in the UK until 2009. Since that time he has been a consultant and trainer, specialising in approaches to dialogic education.  He co-wrote the 2017 book Dialogic Education – Mastering Core Concepts through Thinking Together with Professor Rupert Wegerif of Cambridge University.  Neil is a SAPERE-registered trainer, providing Level 1 and Level 2a training in Philosophy for Children (P4C) and is an associate of Dialogue Works. He also supports teacher training in his role as a Personal Tutor and P4C lead with Keele and North Staffordshire Primary SCITT.

Benjamin Strawbridge: Affiliate

“Oracy can unlock students’ potential, facilitate inclusion, and transform how learners see themselves. The tools and confidence that oracy training provides can have a profound impact on students’ educational trajectories, whilst equipping them best to succeed in life after school. Every student deserves the gift of oracy.”

During his time as a secondary school science teacher, Benjamin developed and piloted his research using oracy to promote inclusion in mainstream science classrooms. Benjamin is evaluating his intervention, through a wider multi-school programme in the second year of his PhD in the Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge. As a Fellow of the RSA, he is an active voice in the discussion regarding the future of education. Benjamin continues to teach, providing inclusive, oracy-centred, private tuition in science and maths and wider developmental support for primary and secondary school students.

Jean Lang: Affiliate (@learningliz)

“Oracy is essential to cognitive development, academic attainment and wellbeing and provides the language skills critical to thrive throughout life.”

Jean has worked as a teacher, headteacher and system leader for over forty years and following retirement from her last full-time role as Head of School Improvement and Partnership in the London Borough of Camden, is now concentrating on her own educational research on teacher learning through talk across networks of small schools and work as a school improvement consultant and trainer. Jean has had a lifelong passion for promoting oracy education in schools, having been introduced to its importance in the 1970s through attending training linked to the work of Joan Tough who was an early proponent of its value.

Topsy Page: Affiliate (@pagetopsy)

“High-quality talk is a vital ingredient in narrowing the gap and improving outcomes. We must nurture positive, respectful classroom climates for talk, give numerous and varied opportunities to gain confidence in talk, and use specific, deliberate techniques to manage and improve pupil Oracy skills. Thinking and talking must be at the heart of learning.”

Topsy works with schools to develop a culture of dialogue and reasoning across the curriculum. As a qualified teacher, former Assistant Head, Writing Lead and SLE in primary education, she is passionate about transforming classrooms by using pupil-to-pupil dialogue. She has worked as a lecturer, trainer and facilitator in the UK and internationally. Topsy is an accredited Philosophy for Children trainer with SAPERE and Dialogue Works. Her popular blog for teachers is at www.topsypage.com.