How do you make an impact on children who require additional support in their communication skills, in a cash strapped education system?

 

Introduction

This study investigated how best to improve children’s attainment in their communication skills without additional financial support. We had very little money and no extra staff, how could we best impact the children? While the current school rating from OFSTED found the school and its early years to be it to be ‘outstanding’ the recent data continued to show a trend of increasingly more children entering the early years with below average communication skills. This trend continues to have a big impact on teaching. My aim was to use the time children had in our nursery to prioritise and address their communication skills and see what the impact was.  This study was to see if it was possible to have a positive impact on children’s communication skills when it made the main focus and priority for those children.

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 comparisons are made over multiple 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.

Methods

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 organisational
  2. 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. Practitioners are the crucial people in the research process. Their participation is active, not passive.

Context

This school is much larger than the average size primary school. The Early Years Foundation Stage comprises a Nursery and four Reception classes. The proportion of pupils from minority ethnic groups and who speak English as an additional language is also much higher than the national average. The largest groups in the school are those of Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian heritage. The proportion entitled to free school meals is below the national average. The school meets the government’s current floor standards, which set the minimum expectations for pupils’ attainment and progress. EHC plans or SEND Support plus are mostly for physical disabilities, communication needs or profound and multi-sensory learning difficulties.

Within the nursery setting we had 12 children that we identified that had no diagnosed special educational need who all were scoring at least 3 age bands below where they should be. This was through a half term of settling and with very little improvement. It was also effecting their development in all other areas of the curriculum. We felt that this was so detrimental to their learning skills that it needed to be addressed. With no additional money to support all of the children we needed to be adventurous in how we could tackle this issue.

A barrier to success was the physical environment of the provision/setting. The layout is a one room open plan nursery, with no separate teaching spaces which have very high ceilings that make the acoustics very interesting. This did not make the perfect environment for children to focus on their communication skills. Leading to a lack of appropriate space needed to conduct these sessions. We made the decision make use of the corridor that the children store their coats. It was not ideal but something had to be better than nothing. Let the trail begin…

Research that informed this study

The recent news headlines are telling us that there are serious issues with funding and support of children with additional needs within the education section. It is also telling us that there is an increase in the mount of children entering the education system with SEND needs or SLCN (speech, language and communication needs).

“Dave Hill, executive director of children, families and learning at Surrey County Council, this week told the education select committee that councils have been inundated with requests for assessments of pupils, but have no money to spend on early intervention. They have been forced to plug the funding gap by top-slicing from their school budget.”  Jess Staufenberg Fri 30th Nov 2018, 7.00

The Observer Special educational needs

‘Devastating’ cuts hit special educational needs Sat 10 Nov 2018

Elizabeth Walker writes “With increasing numbers of children starting school with poor speech and communication skills, it is essential that practitioners support young children’s language development in early years provisions. Early years staff play a key role in encouraging and supporting language acquisition as well as identifying any potential difficulties children may be experiencing,”

Eileen Allpress, Director of Ipswich Research School, introduces the EEF’s Preparing for Literacy guidance report and explains how this evidence is brought to life at Highfield Nursery School and Children’s Centre. The EEF 15 JUN 2018

Preparing for Literacy guidance report makes 7 recommendations to support outcomes.

  1. Prioritise the development of communication and language.
  2. Develop children’s early reading using a balanced approach not just about decoding skills.
  3. Develop children’s capability and motivation to write.
  4. Embed opportunities to develop children’s self-regulation.
  5. 5 Support parents to ensure they understand how to help their children learn.
  1. Use assessment to ensure all children make good progress.
  2. Use high-quality targeted support to help struggling children.

According Angela Hurd the Communication Trust reports that, “in some parts of the UK more than 50 per cent of children start primary school with poor communication skills – that’s 17 in every classroom. Communication skills are critical to a child’s ability to progress in their learning and form relationships with those around them. Both the Bercow Report and the Children’s Plan emphasised the potential detrimental consequences for children with delayed language abilities, including poor attainment – as without the necessary communication skills, children struggle to access all areas of the curriculum. Early identification of communication problems is essential to ensuring children get the help they need to develop their language skills.” Schools have made great improvements in early identification of children with additional needs but when most services starting when children are 5 what do nurseries do when there is little or no money available for the under 5’s.

With the recent budget cuts, there is less and less money for local authorities to invest in areas such as SLCN. What happens to children with additional needs that are not ‘special’ enough to warrant the tittle of SEND or SEND support. The point I’m making is that there does seem to be a Large deficit in the support available for children under 5 who are in need of support in developing their communication skills. Nurseries are having to come up with more inventive and cost saving ways to support the children are in need of extra support.

According to the Adam and Mill website the research on language and literacy has associated delayed development with:

  • Academic difficulties
  • Learning disabilities
  • Shyness and social difficulties
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Behavioral problems and ADHD

(Adam and Mila  www.adam-mila.com/importance-language-development-early-childhood/)  Many schools have found that more children are  coming in with Speech and language and communication needs (SLCN). Now some would argue that this is not a ‘big deal’ and kids all develop at different speeds. But those of us, who are lucky enough to work within the early years, will tell you a different story. The foundation of all education comes down to the ability to effectively communicate with others. 1 in 10 children are now entering the education system with some form of speech and language deficit.

An overview of practice

We needed to plan for the changes we felt were needed to make an impact on attainment.

In regards to our nursery data and the needs of the children we took the following actions:

-We took these children out to have their own high quality speech and language group time during whole class sessions. These sessions were hands on and practical using a wide variety of resources to help engage and stimulate the children.

-They had a tailor made programme based loosely on NHS ‘chatty children’ sessions that helped to focus on their main area of development: attention, listening and speaking.

-We decided to use the practitioner with the most training in SEND and speech and language to conduct 2 sessions every day so that all children had a session at least once a day, in our very tight cloak room with the door shut. The children would then have 10 max session focused solely on their attention and listening or their speech.

Group session:

  • The sessions start with a singing ‘Hello’ Introduction.
  • The main activity is very practical and is to support expressive or reciprocal language. (All activities would aim to incorporate ‘turn taking’, ‘waiting’ or ‘memory’)
  • All session end with the goodbye song.

-We held workshops for all parents.

-We informed the parents of those children involved in this research that they were receiving some additional support and gave advise as to what they can do at home.

-We developed practitioners understanding of the different areas within speech and language.

-We made all children aware of what good talking and listening looked like so that we had peer role models and an understanding that some children needed some help to say what they want.

Implications

This piece of action research has had the following impact on the children’s ability to:

  • Increase the amount of words used to communicate.
  • Increase the confidence to speak and communicate their want and needs.
  • To develop their understanding and be able to follow simple instructions.
  • We have seen a link between children’s improved communication skills and their attainment in other areas of the curriculum but especially the prime areas.

The impact on practise is as follows:

  • Conducting high quality small group interventions focused on the development of communication skill using relevant and inclusive resources; had a significant impact in the children’s communications skills.
  • Continue to regularly support for parent’s knowledge and understanding of how communication skills develop
  • The staff will focus heavily on communication skills when children enter the nursery in September and prioritise interventions in this area of development. We as practitioners need to re-evaluate what our priorities are: results and attainment in the academic area’s or securing a good foundation of learning behaviours.

Considerations

Is the belief that communication skills are vital to child development a shared ethos of your setting? Is academic success prioritised more?

Do you have the relationship with staff and parents to address areas of concern and plan appropriate actions?

Do you have the practical resources available to support your action plans e.g. the space, the staff and the practical teaching tools?

What happens when you don’t have parental support?

Is there enough support and resources being made available to children in the EYFS particularly nursery who require more help?