Find Your Voice: Strive at School 21

With only 11 weeks to go until we head off to Italy for this year’s Virgin Strive Challenge, we returned to School 21 to see how our fundraising is helping them give their pupils and students across the UK a voice.


£166,000 of the total raised from the Virgin Strive Challenge 2014 went to School 21, as seed funding to develop their Oracy program: Voice 21.

On Wednesday morning, Big Changers Princess Beatrice, Holly Branson, and Karl Lokko went to find out more about the impact of our support.

Arriving just in time for morning registration, the team were greeted by the founder of the school, Peter Hyman. Hyman, a former adviser to Tony Blair, co-created the free school to change the school experience and prepare young people for success in the 21st century.

From his vision, the school focuses not only on the students’ exam success, but their well-being and the creativity of the work being produced (a three-way approach he calls the ‘Head, Heart and Hand’ framework).

The school has also embedded their revolutionary speaking program, Voice 21, across the curriculum – teaching pupils the skills to communicate in all aspects of life.

After the brief introduction, the Strive team then headed off to morning assembly.


Unlike most school assemblies, we were not ushered in by the headmaster, to sit silently in rows of chairs.

Instead, the students gathered in ‘strong circles’.  This set up allows students, led by ‘coaches’, to participate in interactive assemblies, representing the idea that future of education lies in circles not straight lines.

Princess Beatrice, Holly and Karl then gave a quick introduction to Big Change, to a captivated and very well-behaved group of year seven’s.


Princess Beatrice called the School 21 ‘incredible pioneers’, and described how she wished ‘oracy’ was on the curriculum when she was at school.

Our self-proclaimed ‘reluctant striver’  Karl Lokko, brought the assembly alive with his energy, introducing the students to the Strive Challenge he is going to be undertaking in September.  

Beatrice, Holly and Karl then joined the students for the main task of the day, writing poems inspired by Striving.


This was poetry, but not as you may know it.

After some initial ‘free association’ poetry brainstorming, we shared our best lines to create a collectively authored poem.

From Hashtags to motivational phrases the imagination coming from year seven pupils thinking about Strive was seriously amazing.


What was even more impressive from an Oracy perspective, was the degree of confidence which the pupils performed their poems to their classmates- with the speaking confidence to match any Ted X speaker.

Everybody left the hall feeling inspired for the next Strive Challenge.

For Holly Branson, who has recently said in an interview with Big Change that the one thing she wished she had been taught at school was ‘communication skills’ because ‘they are so vital in any aspect of life’ for her charity to be funding an initiative such as Voice 21, is definitely at the heart of her vision for the power of Big Change and Strive.  

It was also great to talk to some of the pupils, to find out they think about learning Oracy at school. Ava Young, 12, said that learning Oracy is learning ‘a way that we can express ourselves’ because if ‘you never  speak you will never get heard’. As another student Ferammi, explained ‘Oracy is a tool, and at School 21 we learn how to use it.’

And it’s not just at School 21 that Oracy is having an impact. Big Change and Strive are also this year supporting the expansion of the Voice 21 movement across the UK.

The Oracy programme will be scaled out across the country to provide schools with the tools necessary to equip all students with the communication skills and confidence to thrive in and out of the classroom.  


The Virgin Strive Challenge this year we will be raising £1.5 million for Big Change and its chosen projects, including the Voice 21 program. Do you want to be a part of our movement revolutionising education for the 21st Century? The deadline for Strive is 1st July, sign up now to join the team!


Photography: Adam Slama