Attendance, Behaviour

Why early speech and language support is a winning approach  

As Labour announces its policy to widen early speech and language support, Simon Tanner explains the benefits his trust is experiencing from this intervention

As Labour announces its policy to widen early speech and language support, Simon Tanner explains the benefits his trust is experiencing from this intervention

16 Jun 2024, 5:00

As we emerged from the pandemic, like everyone we were keen to look more closely at behaviour, anxiety and attendance. Having forensically examined our SEND need data, it became clear that Speech language Communication Need (SLCN) was the highest area of need across our SEND pupils in primary, with Social Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) at secondary.

To us, this suggested that pupils’ difficulties with anxiety, behaviour and potentially emotional based school avoidance could in fact be due to an undiagnosed language need. It was important to us to understand the needs of pupils identifying with SEMH and ensure that we were providing appropriate support, and not just accepting the presenting need.

As educators, one of our primary goals is to ensure that every pupil has the opportunity to succeed academically and socially. Those with speech and language difficulties presented a unique challenge, particularly when it came to making sure they weren’t left unsupported while waiting for specialist support.

Being a large academy trust has many benefits. Being able to tackle challenges like this at scale is certainly one of them.

Clearly, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work. Instead, we focused on how to equip our academies with the tools and knowledge necessary to provide effective support at both universal and targeted level before moving to specialist support from trained speech and language therapists.  

Since September 2023, we have started rolling out our speech and language programme run by a national leader in training schools for speech and language support.

This programme includes universal, targeted and specialist interventions and provides all of our academies with the training they need to cater to the diverse needs of their pupils. It goes well beyond initial training, with a focus on succession planning and building out capacity within school.

By offering top-up training and promoting a communication-friendly school ethos, it equips our colleagues with the skills and knowledge they need to sustain effective support practices in the long term.

It’s important not just to accept the presenting need

In each school, a minimum of four staff are training. These include teachers, SENCOs and teaching assistants. During their training, they address topics such as adult-child interaction, asking effective questions and developing understanding through visual support.  

Ultimately, the programme will lead to all 29 of our academies being officially recognised with an accredited mark of ‘Communication Friendly’.  

Providing a holistic trust-wide approach means we are building a resilient network of accredited colleagues who together can deliver a strong offering to our pupils. Training has been rolled out for nearly all of our academies so far, and although it’s still relatively early days, the difference it is already making is well worth the £75,000 we have invested in this important area.

Staff report a heightened awareness of speech and language difficulties, leading to more targeted interventions and support strategies. By incorporating techniques such as active listening, positive reinforcement and visual supports into their practice, teachers can create inclusive learning environments where all pupils can thrive.

In just seven months, our primaries have seen a 300 per cent increase in the number of pupils receiving SLCN interventions. In our secondaries, we have seen double the number of pupils benefitting in this way.

As we continue to implement our trust-wide training, the focus remains on further enhancing accessibility and support for our pupils. With ongoing training, collaboration and a commitment to inclusive practice, we are strengthening our offering to all of our pupils each and every day.  

Ultimately, the success of this work will be measured further down the line in terms of outcomes, attendance and behaviour. These are all data points we are monitoring closely, and while it’s too early to definitely draw conclusions, we are confident that the investment we have made in this space will reap significant rewards for all those pupils we are now supporting more effectively.

In the meantime, it’s already clear to us that undiagnosed speech and language needs are the source of many issues that manifest later. Rather than treating the symptoms, we are confident that we are now treating the cause.

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