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Effective speech, language and communication support for students

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Ten years on from The Bercow Report: A Review of Services for Children and Young People (0–19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs, new research has found that only 26 per cent of children with these needs are making the expected progress in early years foundation stage (EYFS).

But despite funding cuts, which have reduced the support available to schools across the country, schools can buck the trend and improve the prospects for the children they teach with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Speech and language skills aren’t only needed in English lessons – they’re essential to everything children do throughout the day, so it’s vital they are able to comfortably communicate with other students, teachers and members of the local community.

We work with a high proportion of children whose first language is not English and additionally who have undiagnosed speech and language difficulties in both English and their home language. With cuts to local services, access to specialist speech and language support was taking longer and longer. Executive principal Julie Burnside and I decided to invest in our own dedicated speech and language therapist to support students. It has been a worthwhile investment.

Sue Keenan, our speech and language therapist, assesses all children when they start in EYFS or when they transfer from another school, and the results of these assessments enable advice and strategies to be put into place, both in school and at home.

Sue works alongside other agencies such as NHS therapists, Place2Be - a national charity that provides emotional support to children in schools - and other healthcare professionals, including a school nurse, paediatrician and occupational therapists.

Additionally, she has helped us to establish speech, language and communication at the heart of everything we do in school. Examples of this include the following:

  • Using signs and symbols to support children’s communication to ensure they are able to make their wishes and feelings known
  • Using visual timetables and ‘now and next’ boards to support children’s learning
  • Providing a language-rich environment where children have access to communication-friendly spaces, both indoors and outdoors
  • Starting every lesson throughout the day with a discussion. This can be “What if…?” questions to a chat about maths
  • Providing enrichment activities to give children first-hand experiences that they may never have at home or in the community. This allows them to learn by doing, seeing, hearing and smelling, which impacts positively on their language and literacy skills
  • Opening up the school's library at lunchtime to allow children to play games, solve word puzzles, read books and newspapers, and talk to their friends
  • Providing a family-style environment at lunchtime for children to dine in where they get to talk to staff and other students about their day so far
  • Helping children to increase their vocabulary by using Makaton signing in both English and Punjabi.

These are examples of what we do in school to improve children’s speech and language skills, but this is not enough. To make a real difference, we need to work in partnership with their parents and the wider community. We do this in the following ways:

  • Working with local nurseries to teach them our techniques and improve the speech, language and communication skills of children at a younger age – helping them to settle into EYFS quicker
  • Running family activity sessions in association with Lancashire Adult Learning to enable children and parents to learn together
  • Holding an annual gala day for children to share their learning with their families in a fun environment
  • Ensuring a smooth transition to secondary schools by working collaboratively with the schools and parents.

These approaches and the use of a dedicated speech and language therapist have cut down our reliance on NHS services, improved relationships with parents and transformed our students into confident communicators.

Our students are now achieving above the national average in writing and maths, and we are rolling out our speech, language and communication model to the other primary schools within Pendle Education Trust.

About Simon Thompson 
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Simon Thompson is the principal of Pendle Primary Academy in Lancashire, which is part of Pendle Education Trust.

Pendle Primary Academy won the Primary School of the Year Award at 2018 Shine a Light Awards, a national awards scheme that celebrates innovative work and excellent practice in supporting children and young people’s communication development, which is run by learning company Pearson in partnership with The Communication Trust. A short case study on Pendle Primary can be found here together with a video providing an overview of the school.

For further information on Pendle Primary Academy, visit www.pendleeducationtrust.co.uk. For further information on the Shine a Light Awards, visit www.shinealightawards.co.uk

First published 29 May 2018