By Kate Freeman, Consulant - Speech and Language.
With your child or young person starting back at school after the long summer break and the disruption of the last 18 months, you may have some questions about the support they will be receiving: How confident do you feel that the pupil in your life is being supported educationally, as well as in terms of their speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)? How are you able to find out what support they are accessing? And do you know how to help them with exercises, or change in your communication style at home?
For many, communication with schools and with speech and language therapy services might be more difficult than pre-Covid. For some, the advances that have been made in the use of technology will help access to virtual meetings, sitting in on, or recording of speech and language sessions, greater access to communications that don’t require travel and extended time away from other commitments. It is usually the case that parents need to drive this communication and ensure that they understand what is happening to support their child in school.
So what can you do, as a parent, to work with your school and / or speech and language therapy team?
- Find out what is available for your child / young person’s needs – Depending on your local area and the arrangements that your school has in place, there may be different types of support available for your child or young person’s needs.
The first hurdle is making sure that their SLCN are identified and the areas and levels of difficulty are clear. Your school may have access to some assessment tools to help them identify and support SLCN, which might include the Speech and Language Link assessments. There is a lot that the school can do to identify the broad type of need, even before your child or young person is referred to a speech and language therapist (Speech and language therapy input is usually only available to children with particular needs at a specialist level – see below)
Your local authority has a legal duty to publish their Local Offer identifying what support is available for students with different levels of need and also a description of the special educational provision it expects to be available in schools. When you search for this, you may come across the words universal (meaning what is available for everyone), targeted (meaning what is available for people with an identified need that can be supported without specialist intervention) and enhanced or specialist (meaning what is available from a specialist service for a smaller group of people who have very individual needs). Better Communication CIC has a useful document that explains this further.
- Find out the names and contact details of the individuals who are working with your child or young person. Every school is required to have a special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCo). This person, along with your child or young person’s class teacher, is the first point of contact to find out whether a pupil’s needs have been assessed. You can then find out what is being offered to support your child or young person in the classroom and to build their speech, language and communication skills. Once you know this, ensure that you have the contact details of the person who is overseeing this support for your child or young person, so that you can have regular contact with them.
Once the SLCN of your pupil have been identified and the level of support clarified, you will have a better understanding of what this might look like for your child or young person on a day to day basis. Different types of support include changes to the communication environment and differentiation of activities. Both these terms describe making instructions easier to understand or enabling your child or young person’s responses to be accepted even if they are not in the form usually expected for the pupil’s age. This means that the challenges that your child or young person faces are reduced (also known as reasonable adjustments).
It may also be appropriate for your child or young person to have access to particular interventions aimed at supporting their SLCN. These can be delivered by school staff or speech and language therapists, depending on the type of intervention and the training of the staff. There are various types of intervention and some have more research behind them than others. Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of intervention is being used and what the research behind it is. Speech and Language Link interventions are based on robust evidence and require staff to have some training to deliver them.
- Find out how you can get involved at home. There is likely to be plenty that you can do at home to support your child or young person’s SLCN. It makes sense for the support that you offer at home to reflect what is offered in school. So, find out what changes to the communication environment are being made in school and use the same at home. This also provides an opportunity to feed back how it is working at home and find out if the responses are the same or different at school.
If your child or young person is involved with a particular intervention at school, find out what follow-up activities you can do at home. The more support that your child or young person has in different environments, the more successful this support is likely to be….and it is important that you and the school are working on the same aspect of speech, language and communication. It may be helpful to discuss with your school or speech and language therapist the ideas and activities that are on the Speech and Language Link parent portal.
- Arrange regular meetings or other methods of communication, so that you know how your child or young person is progressing. Just as you want to find out how your pupil is learning their maths or English, you are likely to want to know how their underpinning speech, language and communication skills are progressing. Having a regular contact with the SENCo, class teacher or person who delivers their particular intervention will help you to know what progress is being made and how you can help at home. It also demonstrates your commitment to being involved with your child or young person’s speech and language support.
Being persistent in keeping up contact is important. The school or speech and language therapy department is likely to have many competing demands – different children’s needs; parents; teachers, governors; senior management; the local authority; Ofsted. So, it’s not surprising if things slip. However, it is human nature that the issues that receive regular reminders usually have greater priority.
- Involve your child / young person or advocate on their behalf. The Children and Families Act and subsequent Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice* underlines the needs for the child or young person’s views to be at the centre of planning. For children and young people who have difficulties communicating, such as those with SLCN, it can be more difficult to find out their views. This means that those around them have a responsibility to find more inventive ways of finding out what they like or don’t like about their situation, what their hopes are for the future and what support they might need to help them achieve this. Ideas include the use of pictures, visual rating scales, Talking Mats etc.
As in all parts of life, parents have a responsibility to work in the best interests of their child and accessing support for your child or young person’s SLCN is no different. This may mean that you have to make additional efforts in getting needs identified and supported and this can be very tiring as a parent.
Make sure that you get the support you need – from formal groups eg. Afasic, Contact, parent carer forums or local groups. Remember that your friends and family are also available to support you. While it is important not to give up, it is also important to look after yourself so that you can look after your child or young person, as well as you would like to, in the future.
*Useful information for parents on the Code of Practice includes: children-and-families-act-2014-summary.pdf (bromleyparentvoice.org.uk)