“True early identification is the responsibility of all education professionals, whether they be infant, junior, or secondary practitioners.”

We’re all familiar with the term ‘early intervention’ but do we all have a clear understanding of what it means in the context of our own practice?

It is a term that’s heard widely in early years and EYFS practitioners can easily appreciate its relevance to them.

In Year R/P1, as children arrive in school with a wide range of differences in preschool experience, teachers are acutely aware that they are responsible for identifying any areas of weakness so that they can plan the right sort of support and put that support into place as soon as possible.

But what does ‘early intervention’ mean to KS2 and KS3 practitioners and is it something that is given as much priority by them?

‘Early intervention’ simply means that any difficulties a child may encounter are identified and addressed as soon as possible, at whatever stage in their school career that may be. For some children, these difficulties will be apparent as soon as they start school or early in their school career. For others, they may not start to become evident until they move further through school. This is particularly the case with language difficulties. Many children will cope with the demands of language in a KS1 classroom, developing appropriate vocabulary and understanding basic concepts, but language development doesn’t follow a smooth trajectory. Many children will struggle to take the ‘next steps’ necessary to keep their literacy and general learning on target.

In KS2 the language of the classroom changes in a number of ways and children need to understand increasingly complex language in order to continue to develop their learning.

Skills such as the ability to make inferences, understand implied meaning, and understand figurative and idiomatic language are considered to be higher level language skills that children would be expected to have mastered before they are around 9 years old.

The language of the KS2 curriculum introduces a wide range of abstract concepts. Children with SLCN find these abstract concepts difficult to understand. They may have developed a reliance on visual support and are particularly challenged by the fact that abstract ideas cannot easily be represented visually.

The links between literacy and language have been widely researched and reported. As a pupil moves through school, more and more of their learning depends on their literacy. Learning across subjects becomes increasingly dependent on their ability to access written information and measures of pupil progress tend to be based on their literacy, not only through tests of reading but with pupils having to present written work to illustrate their learning. A pupil with SLCN, who may have been able to develop basic reading and writing skills in KS1 may struggle with the literacy demands of a KS3 classroom.

It can be difficult to identify pupils who have SLCN during their first few years at school. They become experts at using coping strategies and masking their difficulties. They will rely heavily on any visual clues such as the gestures of the speaker and the wealth of visual support material used routinely in KS1. They will quickly learn to follow classroom routines and to watch and follow the actions of their classmates. Many will make themselves “invisible” …being quiet and compliant and not volunteering information.

When these “invisible” children reach KS2 they are likely to be noticed, but not necessarily for the right reasons. What might be seen as lack of progress in literacy or poor overall achievement of learning targets can often be an indicator that a pupil is struggling to understand the language of the curriculum. Gaps in their learning, an increased awareness of their problems and the ongoing struggle of using strategies, often result in behaviour issues. In order for early intervention to be put in place, early identification is vital. It’s important to identify issues as soon as possible, to work out the underlying cause, and to ensure that appropriate interventions are in place.

Now, following prolonged periods out of school, we are hearing about the impact on pupils’ communication skills. Recent reports suggest that 1.5 million children are facing difficulties with their speech, language and communication skills following lockdown. Social distancing and isolation, lack of face-to-face contact with peers and longer periods of screen time are all contributing factors.

This term, early identification will be key, not only for those children starting school for the first time, but for all pupils whether they are moving into a new year group or key stage. Only by screening the language skills of pupils as they progress on their journey through education, can you ensure that difficulties are identified and supported as soon as possible.

True early identification is the responsibility of all education professionals, whether they be infant, junior, or secondary practitioners. The sooner difficulties are identified the sooner intervention can be put in place and the better the chance that the intervention will have a successful outcome.

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