Several reports have been published recently which outline the shape and scale of services needed in the future to meet the growing numbers of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), particularly in areas of social disadvantage. They call for services to think creatively about how to tackle this extensive public health challenge across large geographical local areas. The reports call for the children’s workforce to look beyond their own silos and create a rich network of partnership working, shared data and tools to find all children at risk of delay early and ensure that children receive evidence based supports and interventions as soon as possible in their early years. Many research studies have now made the link between poor language development and later academic, mental health and behavioural issues in children and young people’s lives.

Derby City has above average numbers of children and families living in poverty, and above average numbers of children who are EAL. The demographic of Derby has changed dramatically and we have a much more diverse language base within families and communities. The combination of these risk factors means that Derby is an area with high numbers of children with language delay. Our team noticed that there was a strong social gradient in terms of need, and found that in the most socially deprived wards of the city, 80-90% of children were coming in to early years settings at two or three years of age with language delay.

A strategic partnership working to improve educational outcomes for children with speech and language delay in early years.

Five years ago, we began to work with Private, Voluntary and Independent (PVI) early years childcare settings (private day nurseries, playgroups and childminders) to address this challenge in partnership with the Early Years Improvement Team in Derby City. The Early Years team comprises of early years teachers and specialised practitioners from local PVI settings who each lead on key areas of support, e.g. quality first early years pedagogy, safeguarding, maths development.

With the team, we developed a method of support which looked at a ‘systems’ approach within the PVI settings. Rather than immediately training early years practitioners about how to assess and support children with language delay, we centrally trained and coached the setting Leaders and Managers at site visits about how to self­evaluate their speech, language and communication provision. We looked at 5 key areas;

  • the effectiveness of the communication environment,
  • what their workforce knew about speech, language and communication needs and how to support them,
  • the assessment tools they could use to identify SLCN early,
  • the evidence based interventions that can accelerate children’s language development,
  • how to support parents to create a language rich home learning environment.

All managers also received a two day training course about speech sound development and its links to early letters and sounds phonics development in conjunction with an early years teacher from the team. Settings were trained to spot speech sound disorders for referral to the NHS Speech and Language Therapy service and advised to pass on their ongoing concerns about children’s delayed speech sound difficulties at transition to Reception classes in primary schools. Most primary schools in Derby use the Speech Link and Infant Language Link packages. Anne Ayre from Clickety Books was also available at a half day follow up session to advise about suitable books for children with each of the different delayed speech sound patterns that the managers identified from the training.

When we began this focussed work with the Early Years Improvement Team, 54% of the settings were judged good to outstanding by Ofsted. Now the figure is around 93%. If you looked at the Good Level of Development (GLD) four years ago, it was about 43%. And it is now about 68%. We know that about 70% of pre-school children in Derby attend a PVI setting rather than the foundation units attached to schools. The GLD for children at age 5 years has risen significantly in Derby because of the work of the team in Derby.

Written reports about the impact of our work have fed into our new Derby Opportunity Area delivery plan. We sincerely hope that we can drive this forward to look at City-wide initiatives across health, education and the voluntary sectors to develop prevention messages, identification of need early and cross sector use of universal and targeted prov1s1on using evidence based supports and interventions including Speech Link and Language Link.

Clarity (TEC) Ltd was established in 2013. We passionately believe that by developing the workforce and enabling parents, no child will have unidentified speech, language and communication difficulties and will have access to the right support at the right time.

Interesting reading to support this article;

  • Early Language Development -Education Endowment Foundation
  • Language as a child wellbeing indicator – Early Intervention Foundation
  • Talking About a Generation. Current Policy, Evidence and Practice for Speech, Language and Communication – The Communication Trust
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