How can you effectively enhance teaching and learning provision for children with speech and language difficulties in a way that ensures practitioners feel in control of the impending changes to provision that will challenge their professional skills, knowledge and practice and drive improvement?

  1. Focus:

One of the most significant challenges faced by our early year’s team is to support our children’s early communication and language development. Throughout both their nursery years and time in our reception classes, our children receive a wide range of support and engage in intervention programmes designed to: improve their vocabulary; develop narrative skills; encourage active listening and build confidence in independent speaking. As a result the progress and attainment (at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage) of our “SEND support” children is significantly higher than both local and national comparative data.

However, in recent years our school has seen its mobility data significantly increase, as a result we have seen a significant increase in the number of children with Language and Communication needs who join our Key Stage One provision without being supported first by our Early Years Team.

This year saw this figure increase to 41 children. This research focused primarily on the actions of restructuring both our staffing teams and the practice they provide to ensure we better meet the needs of these children. It also looked at how to achieve this primary goal while ensuring practitioners most effected by the changes developed a sense of control over the impending changes to provision that would challenge their professional skills, knowledge and practice.

2. Background:

The way children with special educational needs are diagnosed and supported has changed significantly, particularly following the implementation of reforms to the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) system in 2014.

Government figures show that since 2010, the proportion of children with special educational needs has fallen sharply from 21.1 per cent to 15.4 per cent. However, the proportion of children with Education, Health and Care Plans or statements of special educational needs has not fallen in that time, so the apparent decline is solely among children with less severe difficulties, who may no longer be included on the SEN register.

‘The proportion of children with special educational needs and disabilities has not necessarily changed, but teachers are now looking more carefully at how they may be able to use quality teaching to better meet individual needs,’ ‘If the needs can be met by better teaching, then those children should not be included on the SEN register.’ – Dr Adam Boddison, chief executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs (NASEN).

For schools and early years settings, these changes have introduced new ways of working and fresh challenges. However, in a research report published by the DFE in 2017, it was identified that these, “new ways” of working are very varied when comparing settings to settings.

The purpose of this network was to provide a supportive, participant driven, learning community through which schools and settings can analyse the effectiveness of their provision for children with Special Educational Needs, enhance their own practice through action research and deepen their understanding of how to best meet the individual needs of the children in their care.

3. Context of the school

Gearies Primary School opened in 2013 following the amalgamation of a former infant and junior school. It was awarded National Teaching School status in April 2014 and works with other schools- both locally and nationally- as part of the Gants Hill Partnership Teaching Alliance.

The school is much larger than the average primary school. Pupils from minority ethnic groups make up nearly the whole school roll. The majority of these pupils are from Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and other Asian heritages. The vast majority of pupils speak English as an additional language.

The proportion of disabled pupils and those who have special educational needs is above both local and national averages.

4. Method

Action Research:

Action research is a process where participants reflect on their own educational practice using the techniques of research. Teachers work effectively when they examine and assess their own work and then consider ways of working differently. Teachers help each other, work collaboratively, and improve their professional development (Watts, 1985, p. 118).

Denscombe (2010) identifies four defining characteristics of action research:

  1. Practical nature. It is aimed at dealing with real-world problems and issues,typically at work and in organizational settings.
  2. Change. Both as a way of dealing with practical problems and as a means of discovering more about phenomena, change is regarded as an integral part of research.
  3. Cyclical process. Research involves a feedback loop in which initial findings generate possibilities for change which are then implemented and evaluated as a prelude to further investigation.
  4. Participation. Practitioners are the crucial people in the research process. Their participation is active, not passive.

5. A review of research, guidance and other practices that informed this study:

The Mosaic approach (Clark and Moss, 2001; Clark, 2003).

The Mosaic approach was developed during a research study to include the ‘voice of the child’ in an evaluation of a multiagency network of services for children and families.

The elements of this approach are:

  • multi-method: recognises the different ‘voices’ or languages of children;
  • participatory: treats children as experts and agents in their own lives;
  • reflexive: includes children, practitioners and parents in reflecting on meanings, and addresses the question of interpretation;
  • adaptable: can be applied in a variety of early childhood institutions;
  • focused on children’s lived experiences: can be used for a variety of purposes including looking at lives lived rather than knowledge gained or care received;
  • embedded into practice: a framework for listening that has the potential to be both used as an evaluative tool and to become embedded into early years practice.

 “The Graduated Approach” to SEND Support.

In the new SEND Code of Practice the categories of School Action and School Action plus have been replaced by a single category called SEN Support. Where a pupil is identified as having SEND, to enable the pupil to participate, learn and make progress schools should take action to:

  • remove barriers to learning
  • put effective special educational provision in place.

SEN support should arise from a four-part cycle, known as the graduated approach, through which earlier decisions and actions are revisited, refined and revised, leading to a growing understanding of the pupil’s needs and of what supports the pupil in making good progress and securing good outcomes.

The four stages of the cycle are:

  1. Assess
  2. Plan
  3. Do
  4. Review

The graduated approach starts at whole-school level. Teachers are continually assessing, planning, implementing and reviewing their approach to teaching all children. However, where a potential special educational need has been identified, this cyclical process becomes increasingly personalised:

  • Individualised assessment leads to a growing understanding of the barriers to and gaps in the pupil’s learning.
  • Continual reflection on approaches to meeting the pupil’s needs leads to a growing understanding of strategies that directly responsible and accountable for all pupils in their class(es), even when pupils are receiving support from a teaching assistant or other specialist staff, within or outside the classroom. The responsibility and accountability for the progress and development of pupils with SEN lies with the class or subject teacher, not with the SENCO or the learning support department.

This is not a new concept. It is firmly embedded in the Teachers’ Standards (2012) and the new Ofsted framework.

Person-centred planning (PCP)

PCP is a set of approaches designed to assist an individual to plan their life and supports. It is most often used for life planning with people with learning and developmental disabilities, though recently it has been advocated as a method of planning personalised support with many other sections of society who find themselves disempowered by traditional methods of service delivery, including children, people with physical disabilities, people with mental health issues and older people. PCP is accepted as evidence based practice in many countries throughout the world.

The Nuffield Early Years Language Intervention

The Nuffield Early Language Intervention is an evidence-based oral language intervention for children in nursery and reception who show weakness in their oral language skills and who are therefore at risk of experiencing difficulty with reading.

In 2016, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published an evaluation study of the Nuffield Early Language Intervention. The statistically significant results from 34 schools demonstrated that the programme increased the attainment of levels of 4- to 5- year-olds in vocabulary, grammar and listening skills and improved language and children’s confidence. The EEF designated the intervention as a ‘promising project.’

Creating change through developing “Responsible Pedagogy”:

“Responsible pedagogy enables each child to demonstrate learning in the fullest sense. It depends on the use of assessment information to plan relevant and motivating learning experiences for each child. Effective assessment can only take place when children have the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding, learning and development in a range of contexts.” (Fisher,J) / (Early Years Foundation Stage Profile Handbook, 2014)

Language as a child wellbeing indicator. (2017) Law, J; Charlton, J; Asmussen, K. Early Intervention Centre. Newcastle University.

Early language acquisition impacts on all aspects of young children’s non-physical development. It contributes to their ability to manage emotions and communicate feelings, to establish and maintain relationships, to think symbolically, and to learn to read and write. This report makes that case that children’s language skills be prioritised as a child wellbeing indicator.

The Early Intervention Centre is calling for early language development to be prioritised as a child wellbeing indicator, so that it must be treated as a public health issue, like vaccination, obesity and mental health. This change would make it clear that language development problems have serious consequences and require additional support, even when they are not the result of acute or clinical disorders.

Council for disabled children. SEND and disability in the Early Years: A Tool Kit

Each section of the toolkit provides a briefing on a particular aspect of the SEN and disability reforms as they apply to early years providers. Each section is based on the statutory requirements and the guidance from the early years, the SEN and the disability frameworks, and draws on a range of relevant practice guidance and other materials to provide an accessible guide to SEN and disability in the early years.

“Multi Me”

After extensive research since 2008 involving The Rix Centre (University of East London) in helping to develop an early software prototype, Multi-Me Ltd. was formed in 2010 by Charlie Levinson. The multi me toolkit provides a range of accessible and multimedia based social applications designed to support people with learning disabilities with their self-advocacy, self-determination and independence.

“Leading in a Culture of Change” Fullan, M (2001)

This book is about how leaders can focus on certain key change themes that will allow them to lead effectively.

Policies that Support Professional Development in an Era of Reform. Darling-Hammond, L and McLaughlin, M W
Phi Delta Kappan, 1995, 76(8) pp 597–604

Understanding the conditions through which teachers’ acquisition and use of new knowledge and skills are enhanced informs our understanding of effective models of professional development. In this article the authors examine some design principles to guide policy-makers and school reformers who seek to promote learner-centred professional development which involves teachers as active and reflective participants in the change process.

6. Theory of Change Model

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Expectations for the practitioner delivering The Nuffield Early Language Intervention:

  • The practitioner will attend training sessions with the supervising senior leader.
  • To deliver throughout the autumn and spring terms of Year One, “The Nuffield Early Language Intervention” in accordance with the interventions vision, parameters and expectations.
  • Every ten weeks:
  • Plan, prepare, deliver and evaluate three group sessions each week (five children)
  • Plan, prepare, deliver and evaluate two individual child sessions each week
  • To conduct entry and exit programme assessments
  • Develop personalised provision for supporting each child’s narrative skills
  • Ensure all record- keeping is shared with teachers, team leaders and supervising senior leader, weekly.
  • Ensure experiences and practice developed within the intervention impacts upon the wider practice of the year group by actively contributing towards planning and provision improvement.
  • Be responsible for ensuring focus children continue to progress with their communication and language development.
  • Following the Year One February assessment review; the role of the practitioner will be reviewed.

7. Impacts

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8. Implications

This piece of action research had a significant impact on the children’s ability to:

  • Increase the number of words they use in their story telling
  • Talk in complete sentences
  • Use correct word forms
  • Use story language in their own story telling
  • Read

This piece of research had a significant impact on the professional knowledge, skills  and performance of the practitioners engaged in Theory of Change Model.

9. Considerations

  1. This piece of research proved challenging, what was vital was the support offered and made available from learning within a Professional Learning Community made up of Leaders, Teachers and Practitioners.
  2. This research  highlighted the importance of Darling-Hammond, L and McLaughlin, M W Phi Delta Kappan, (1995) literature and research:
  • Traditional notions of in-service training or dissemination need to be replaced by opportunities
    for ‘knowledge sharing’ based in real situations.
  • Teachers need opportunities to:
    • share what they know
    • discuss what they want to learn
    • connect new concepts and strategies to their own unique contexts
  • This can be done either through professional organisations or informal ‘critical friend’

Systems need to be in place allowing:
• blocks of time for teachers to work and learn collaboratively
• strategies for team planning, sharing, learning and evaluating
• cross-role participation (teachers, administrators, parents, psychologists)

3.  Seeking expertise from outside of the teaching profession provided invaluable support as well as an important source of guidance on effective innovation.