Twigg calls for public speaking lessons in state schools
The shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg has called for all state school pupils to be given lessons in public speaking and interview techniques.
He says training in communication skills would help more pupils to compete with their privately-educated peers for top jobs and university places.
Some state schools do run such classes, but Mr Twigg says they should form part of the national curriculum.
The curriculum is under review.
Changes are being drawn up and are due to be introduced in autumn 2014.
Speaking at an academy school in west London, Mr Twigg said: "If we are to break down the barriers that stop some bright young people succeeding, then being articulate and confident is critical.
"Spoken skills have not had enough of a focus within state schools but it is clear this needs to change. We know that many private schools focus on debating and on interview coaching, helping their students get another leg up toward the best universities and jobs.
"Labour wants all pupils to have the same opportunities to develop their verbal communication and presentation skills. This is about modernising our schools system to improve life chances."
He said private school pupils were more likely to practise debating, with fee-paying schools disproportionately represented in national and international debating competitions.
Recently, the Education Secretary Michael Gove said graduates who had been to private schools still dominated positions of wealth and power in what he said was the UK's "profoundly unequal" society.
The government says its pupil premium scheme - where schools are given extra cash for students from low-income homes - will help drive up achievement.
Under its academy schools programme for England, schools which become academies do not have to follow the national curriculum.'Major handicap'
Mr Twigg, the Labour MP for Liverpool, West Derby, went to a comprehensive school in north London before going on to Oxford University.
Katja Hall from the Confederation of British Industry agrees spoken skills should be given a higher priority.
"Employers need staff to be able to, with confidence, articulate information in a clear and coherent way, to extract key details from conversations and to be ready to present a case to peers and colleagues," she said.
"Leaving compulsory education without adequate spoken and communication skills is a serious blight on young people's lives and a major handicap when they're looking for work."