Speech, language and communication skills underpin children’s ability to learn and have a direct impact on their academic and life outcomes. Up to 50% of children in areas of social disadvantage start school with below average language skills, that are not adequate to support their next steps in learning. This has led to a significant attainment gap in our schools, which is likely to have only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a result, oral language is increasingly being recognised as a key area to target catch up support towards, with the EEF stating that targeting this area is likely to have a big impact on attainment, in their guidance for schools. More recently, PHE published the ‘Best Start in Speech, Language and Communication’ providing guidance to improve services to ensure that children are meeting their Early Learning Goals. Emphasis is placed on early identification of children with SLCN, increasing the knowledge and skills of practitioners and families, and providing inclusive communication environments.
School staff are under increasing pressure to close the gap for these children, but complicating things further is the fact that difficulties understanding language are really tough to identify, with many children falling through the gaps without support. School staff need the tools to be able to identify the children that need support and an intervention that will boost language skills and, as a result, attainment. But how do you go about choosing an SLCN intervention for your school and what are the important things to consider?
Does the package support you to identify which children have SLCN?
Language difficulties are known as a ‘hidden need’ because it is impossible to identify that a child is having difficulty understanding from observation alone. This has resulted in lots of children with SLCN not being identified and falling through the gaps. It is crucial that an intervention for SLCN contains an assessment to enable you to identify which children need support. The best assessments identify which children would benefit from targeted intervention in school and which need more specialist support in order to make progress, to enable schools to target resources more efficiently.
Does the package build SLCN knowledge and expertise throughout the school?
Many intervention packages are designed for one person within the school to be trained to deliver, however this is not the most efficient way of supporting children with SLCN. These children are going to make the most progress within a communication friendly environment, where quality first teaching strategies are in place within the classroom. It is crucial that all staff have the knowledge and skills to support children with SLCN, so it is important to look at what an intervention package can provide for the whole school. Many children can be supported through the use of classroom strategies alone, without the need for more targeted intervention.
Is there evidence that the intervention works and is it feasible to deliver in school?
It is important to review the evidence base for the intervention to ensure that you are buying something that is going to work. When reading research studies, it is important to note how much intervention was provided in the study and how much progress was made as a result. For example, if within a study the children received daily intervention, this would be very difficult to achieve within a school timetable, affecting the treatment fidelity. If the children in the study made only two months’ progress above what we would expect from normal maturation, you would be unlikely to see much progress from implementing the intervention if you were unable to complete it as regularly.
Does the intervention target specific areas of language for children, or is it a one-size fits all?
Language difficulties are very complex and affect different areas for different children. This means that no child with SLCN is the same as another. It is important that the intervention you choose allows you to target different areas of language depending on the difficulties each child has, making the most efficient use of time and resources. In addition, not all children require 1:1 intervention and many can be supported successfully in a group, so it is beneficial for an intervention to be able to identify those children who need more individualised support.
What happens after you have purchased the intervention?
Research shows that school staff can make a huge difference to children’s language skills with the right support in place, however as language skills are very complex, school staff will continue to need advice in providing the best support for these children. Find out whether your school will receive any ongoing support after purchasing an intervention. It is also important to find out whether updates will be made to the intervention, as if it is something that is provided in the form of a manual with photocopiable resources, this is likely to go out of date within a few years’ due to advances in research.
To find out more, register to watch our talk The SLCN Landscape: how to boost language skills with evidence-based intervention at the TES SEN Virtual Show. Register free: https://tes-sen-show-2020.reg.buzz/speechlink
How can Language Link help?
The award-winning Infant Language Link is an online assessment and intervention package enabling schools to identify and provide timely support for children with language difficulties. Suitable for children aged 4 to 8 years, the package combines standardised assessment, built-in training, planned and resourced interventions, progress tracking, and dynamic reporting. Children make an average of 5 months’ extra progress after an average of 12 weeks of half-hour group sessions, following the Infant Language Link programme.
Visit our Parent Portal
Given the events of the last week and the move again to distance learning for most children, we are encouraging all schools to visit our award-winning Parent Portal, recommended by the DfE. The Parent Portal is full of resources, activities and videos that you can share with parents to support them to develop children’s speech, language and communication skills at home. https://speechandlanguage.info/parents