Supporting all students with SLCN

Written by: Carmen De Pablo López & Marina Breed | Published:
Image: MA Healthcare/Lucie Carlier

In this three-part series, experts Carmen De Pablo López and Marina Breed are advising on speech, language and communication needs. In the final part, they look at how they are able to ensure that students with SLCN get the support they need and don’t slip through the net

One of the humbling realisations I had when completing the national award course for SENCOs was that I do not hold a magic wand with any cures. Instead, the secret lies in the open and honest professional dialogue, consultations and dogged determination to find the best set of interventions that we can to meet the needs of our students. One size does not fit all – because we are human and therefore complex beings.

At Tor Bridge High, we have what we call “HIMs” – Holistic Intervention Meetings – which take place on a termly basis.
We realise we are very lucky to be able to have outside professionals around the table – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), youth services, educational psychologists, police and, lately, the speech and language therapy leader for Plymouth.

I also know that I can call on Plymouth’s Communication Interaction Team (CIT) for both language needs and social communication needs.

The inclusion department has three strands at Tor Bridge – the Speech and Language Support Base, the Tamar Learning Centre (more focused on social, emotional and mental health needs), and Learning Support (focused on cognition and learning and ASC – autism and social communication).

The managers of these strands plus the deputy heads who deal with pastoral issues and myself form the rest of the multi-agency forum.

In the HIMs meetings, students’ cases (after parental consent is granted) are discussed and the best provision to meet their needs is put together. The input that outside professionals offer, sometimes in the shape of advice, or in taking up the case or in pointing in the right direction, is instrumental. All their support is invaluable and we are indebted to them.

The Tor Bridge Inclusion Panel (the managers of the three inclusion strands and myself) then meet afterwards to discuss particular cases within each of their strands.

Marina is active in her training of staff: she runs whole-staff CPD, does initial screening of potential SLCN, advises teacher trainees and new staff on how to differentiate for SLCN (speech, language and communication needs), and runs a parent get-together café with the educational psychologist.

We both deliver training for the Plymouth Learning Partnership (PLT) in October, and at Tor Bridge staff are encouraged to continuously identify students’ needs and seek support and advice from the inclusion staff.

A few years ago, I put together a handbook of strategies to support students with SEN, and organised it according to the four areas of need as laid out in the SEND Code of Practice (2014).

The biggest part of it is a compilation of resources sent to us by the CIT in order to support the students they work with. Our robust links with the team naturally spring from giving a home to the Speech and Language Support Base, and having a high number of students with ASC on our SEN register.

As soon as files are transferred to us from the primary schools before the summer for the new year 7s, I go through every one to ensure all needs are recorded on our information management system, especially if these needs are SLCN. Even if the pupil’s SLCN case was closed before reaching us in year 7, the chances are SLCN will re-emerge. Additional interventions or a re-referral may be needed.

This is because primary schools may offer high levels of support, a single teacher may deliver the bulk of the curriculum, children may have a teaching assistant who helps to compensate for the needs – but in secondary schools the way of working is very different. Large amounts of new vocabulary and content, a variety of teachers and teaching styles, fast pace and a set timetable are not the best recipe for students with SLCN – processing difficulties lead to overload and shut down.

It is imperative that staff are aware of these students and are versed in strategies to support them, maybe as simple as how to introduce new vocabulary, sequencing tasks, giving time to process, or simplifying our use of language.

As well as the statutory categories for Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs) and SEN Support, I introduced new categories on the management information system for staff to keep these students with previous SLCN intervention on their radar: it is what I call the “Watch” categories:

  • WC – Watch Communication: a student has had SLCN in the past and been supported by an outside agency but is no more, so monitor.
  • WS – Watch Sensory: as above, but regarding sight, hearing or sensory issues.
  • WL – Watch Literacy: as above, but they may have had some dyslexia or similar issues.
  • WE – Watch Emotional: as above, but maybe CAMHS were involved.

We are the only secondary school in Plymouth with a Language Support Base. The local authority fully funds 10 places for students with EHCPs whose primary need is Developmental Language Disorder. However, the number of students with this need, whether they have an EHCP or not, is staggering: 14.3 per cent with an EHCP and 22 per cent on SEN Support.

Maybe the huge number of resources that we have for SLCN in that handbook is a representation of the picture in Plymouth. It is this high number of students with SLCN that drives us to seek the best provision.

The CIT (on the language side) trained Marina’s staff to impart inferential workshops – to infer meaning from texts, especially as the content deepens in English literature and language GCSEs, is a challenge for students with SLCN and ASC because they take everything so literally.

For us, nevertheless, a “label” is not the only passport to access any intervention. If staff have concerns about any aspects of students’ development, we endeavour to train support staff in order to deliver support.

Social skills are another area where these students need support, and Marina’s staff run workshops for this too. Last year the social communication/ASC side of the CIT trained a psychology student on work experience placement with us to deliver social skills workshops. We are extremely fortunate to have such professionals around us who will share advice and best practice.

The Communication Trust and the I CAN communication charity have produced a wealth of resources to use in the classroom and for staff training, such as their online short courses (see further information).

The SEND Code of Practice (2014) clearly outlines that the teacher and the SENCO “should consider all the information gathered from within the school ... using effective tools and early assessment materials in order to decide the SEN provision”.

From our point of view, the more empowered the teacher is the best judgements they will be able to make. Knowledge is not just power but also an effective and time-saving tool. Outside professionals are able to provide guidance and assessment tools to help us gather this information. This is more important than ever, when the current climate of further budget reductions makes the thresholds for referrals tougher to meet, the workforce deals with more and more complex cases (in quantity and quality) and resources just can’t stretch any more.

Previously in this series, we have mentioned the effect that early help can have to prevent SLCN from becoming more complex or extensive as children get older. “Getting in early” hasn’t been so crucial as it is now.

As such, the language team of the CIT provides a round robin to ascertain students’ language needs. Teachers comment on observations classified into receptive and expressive language. The observation statements provide a good thinking framework for teachers to become more aware of what SLCN is and the issues associated with it.

And we cannot finish this series without mentioning the fantastic compilation of practical resources and advice that former government communication champion Jean Gross has provided throughout her career and, more specifically, in the shape of her Beating Bureaucracy in Special Educational Needs (2013).

I empathise completely with the overwhelming feeling of being snowed under with paperwork, meetings and the constant urgency of ensuring students don’t slip through the net. However, when we engage with wider professionals and empower our whole-school staff we create that stronger team around the child, which gives us every chance of identifying and supporting all students who need our help.

  • Carmen De Pablo López is head of inclusion and Maria Breed is language support centre manager at Tor Bridge High School in Plymouth.

Practical workshop

  • Carmen and Marina will be presenting a practical workshop at SecEd’s Ninth National Pupil Premium Conference on March 23 in Birmingham. The workshop is entitled “Identifying and tackling speech, language and communication needs to raise Pupil Premium outcomes”. Visit

Further information


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up SecEd Bulletin