A language toolkit

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In Coventry, a three-stage model has been introduced to support learners with speech, language and communication needs. Sandi McKinnon explains.

According to the Department for Education’s 2012 School Census, speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are the most common type of SEN in primary schools (29 per cent of the total). At secondary level, SLCN may be more difficult to quantify, but the study revealed significant differences in comprehension scores at secondary schools, with 21 per cent of socially disadvantaged pupils identified with significant and hitherto undetected language difficulties.

The government’s Better Communication Research Programme (BCRP) supplied further evidence for supporting speech, language and communication in schools: statements for SLCN have risen 72 per cent between 2006 and 2011. The BCRP confirmed links between disadvantage and language difficulties, with children receiving free school meals being twice as likely to have SLCN, highlighting the need to provide effective support for the most vulnerable children.

However, all children, regardless of their individual needs, benefit from speech, language and communication support. The 2009/10 Ofsted Annual Report states: “In the most effective schools visited, inspectors saw teachers thread rich opportunities for speaking and listening into lessons. In turn this led to improved standards of writing. A common feature of the most successful schools ... was the attention they gave to developing speaking and listening.”

The Speech and Language Support Service in Coventry aims to provide a range of speech, language and communication support for schools to fit the “waves of intervention”, three-stage model of support. This includes a Language Toolkit for universal support, Coaching for Communication for targeted support, and a Level 3 Award in SLCN for specialist support. 

The Language Toolkit was trialled in both primary and secondary schools and revised in the light of staff comments and findings. It was then launched to all schools in Coventry, along with a training programme to be cascaded to all staff.

Our aim was for the toolkit to allow schools to develop students’ speaking and listening skills and promote the use of correct English with a more sophisticated vocabulary. It also helped students to better identify key vocabulary across the curriculum and promoted their use of it so that they could build a repertoire of subject-related vocabulary.

The Language Toolkit manual contains strategies and activities to develop speaking and listening across the curriculum and a range of multimedia resources, such as DVDs, recordable devices, microphones and postcards. Also included is a CD with a digital version of the manual and additional resources to support the activities. The pilot project showed that most teachers planned their lessons online so providing an electronic version was essential.

What the Language Toolkit essentially provides is a package containing all the necessary tools for educators to better promote speaking and listening. As one staff member said: “The toolkit has put speaking and listening back on the agenda – particularly at key stage 3 where there is an assumption that it is already being covered.”

The second intervention is called Coaching for Communication, in which our aim was to provide training for support staff through coaching and modelling. We were additionally providing planning and resources for support staff following direct input from specialist teachers, and consequently embedded SLCN expertise in schools for the future. 

We wanted to provide schools with a sustainable specialist proficiency from a multi-disciplinary team drawn from Coventry’s Speech and Language Support Service, Autism Team, Minority Group Support Service, and Speech and Language Therapy Service.

To do this, we offered a six-week teaching block with a small group (up to one hour each week), coaching and modelling with a designated member of support staff with a choice of areas of language to work on, planning, resources and strategies, as well as covering impact measures to use with staff and pupils. The coaching and modelling style of workforce development has proved to be very effective, with pre and post surveys showing a 48 per cent increase on the confidence of staff.

We also identified the gap in training for school staff in SLCN and chose to work with the Communication Trust’s materials to produce a Level 3 Award in SLCN. This course was accredited by City & Guilds and designed to provide a basis for understanding the typical development of speech, language and communication in children and young people, as well as the impact this can have on their later life.

The course also recognised the need to highlight the ways in which communication skills are influenced when children and young people are learning more than one language, something which is imperative if such children are to succeed with language improvement.

It was delivered through full days of teaching, drop-in sessions, tutored portfolio tasks, observations and professional discussions. Participants on the course reported increased confidence when supporting students, an understanding of a communication-friendly environment, an ability to provide students with strategies to support themselves, and to provide staff with a wider skill base to support students with SLCN.

  • Sandi McKinnon is the head of the Speech and Language Support Service in Coventry and is presenting this project at Nasen Live 2014 later this month.

Nasen Live 2014
Nasen Live 2014 takes place on May 21 and 22 in Bolton. The event will see the launch of the SEND Gateway, the first national portal for free access to high-quality information, resources and training for meeting the needs of children with SEN. The upcoming SEN Code of Practice will also be discussed. Visit www.nasenlive.org.uk


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