Giving our youngsters the chance to talk

Communication lessons at East Whitby school''w132110b
Communication lessons at East Whitby school''w132110b

A pioneering two year project to improve speech and language in Whitby and district’s schools has been hailed a huge success by head teachers.

East Whitby, Airy Hill, Sleights and St Hedda’s in Egton along with three schools in Scarborough were selected to be one of just four A Chance to Talk pilot initiatives taking place nationally.

Communication lessons at St Hedda's School Egton Bridge''w132110a

Communication lessons at St Hedda's School Egton Bridge''w132110a

It was designed to improve the communication skills of four to seven year olds in primary schools and improve pupil’s outcomes with it being hailed as particularly effective for children with delayed language development and those with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

The results found that youngsters with delayed language made, on average three times the ‘normal rate of progress in language development of between nine and 18 months’ after 10 weeks of intervention for children with language delay.

Head teacher at East WhitbyTony Mok said: “We were so pleased with not only the results and rate of improvement, but also the increased confidence in our pupils, that we have continued to deliver the programme with other groups.”

Jim Lidgley, head teacher of Airy Hill School was equally enthusiastic. The school had a total of 58 children taking part in two classes.

“It was great for the school and the children involved. The children who took part made very good progress,” he said.

“Speech and language is a vital skill. Hopefully these kids will be on the right path and we are certainly closing the gaps.”

In the classroom, spoken language is the main way teachers teach and children learn with language competence linked with literacy development, academic performance, behaviour at school and emotional wellbeing.

Children with language delay or SLCN will need particular support to develop these skills as their communication difficulties are a barrier to accessing the curriculum and developing the emotional and social skills they need for a successful school experience.

In North Yorkshire, despite being the largest county in England, population is low, leading to challenges in providing speech and language support services as families and schools have less access to resources and activites.

The project consisted of three different waves - the first was support for the whole school to deliver high quality inclusive class teaching to promote all children’s language development.

The second wave involved the school’s own teaching assistants who were trained up to deliver intervention to small groups of children as part of a 10 week programme while wave three involved a speech and language therapist providing specialist help to children with speech, language and communication needs in school.

At St Hedda’s, which has just 37 pupils, youngsters benefited greatly from taking part in the project as, the whole school was involved.

“It was really useful,” said head teacher Mari Palmer. “The project also helped us improve the process of talking and listening as well. It helped us to identify possible issues.

“I’ve noticed a big difference in all of the children. I ended up on the steering group for the whole area and it’s really opened my eyes to what’s available. We are going to carry on doing small group work. The project has been a really positive experience and has enabled us to identify and we can help quickly and provide it in school rather than going to Whitby for speech and language support.”

A Chance to Talk was developed, piloted and evaluated by I CAN, the children’s communication charity working with The Communication Trust, supported by the Every Child a Chance Trust.