How effective is intervention, within the classroom, in supporting SEN and EAL children with speech and language difficulties, to develop their communication and language skills in EYFS?

By Mrs Naviella Anwar


This study aims to highlight how we as practitioners can develop language and communication in Early Years, without any external support. I will in the alternative, use high quality, practical strategies within a classroom that will support SEN children, who may have a speech and language problem or children with English as an additional Language (EAL). The reason for this research was due to the high percentage of children entering reception in 2018 with a low baseline score in CL, which had an impact on PSE.


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.


Context of the school

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 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.


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.


A review of research that informed this study:

Action Research

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.

Problems with speech and language are the most common developmental difficulty that children encounter. Studies indicate that as many as 1 in 10 children in the UK have speech and language difficulties, and these are particularly prevalent in the early years.

Language is central to learning, but a study by the Basic Skills Agency (in 2002) reported that – in the opinion of teachers – 50% of children begin school lacking skills that are vital for getting off to a good start in education.

Elizabeth Walker (Cronor- I ) states, ‘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, states that, ‘Improving young children’s vocabulary is often a high priority especially when working with children from disadvantaged backgrounds who are more likely to have a less extensive vocabulary. Evidence suggests that approaches need to be both implicit and explicit and vocabulary needs to ensure there is both depth and breadth of word knowledge. Using story related activities can help support this through both explicit vocabulary teaching (new vocabulary related to the story) and implicit vocabulary teaching (modelling the use in other contexts) when a sensitive attuned adult follows the child’s lead in situations of interests to them’.

The cuts to school funding since 2015 has had a detrimental impact on children who need this extra support.

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Schools have had to make substantial budget cuts because of Government under funding and this impacts on staffing numbers as staffing makes up the majority of their expenditure. As a result, they are less able to give individual support to children, they cannot sustain a full range of curriculum options, and class sizes are rising. This is most damaging to children who need extra support and whose parents cannot afford to supplement their education with activities outside school. If the government is to live up to its promise to improve social mobility, it must give schools the funding that they need.”

School funding per pupil falls faster in England than in Wales.


In First Discoverers, it has been suggested that there are two main ways in which practitioners can help support children in developing their speech and language skills:

1) by being a good role model

2) by providing stimulation

‘Children learn best simply by observing and copying adult behaviour, so it stands to reason that you should model good speech and language skills whenever you possibly can. Here’s a checklist of the kinds of behaviour you should be modelling when you interact with children:

  • Speak clearly and calmly
  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Make eye contact (get down to the child’s level if necessary)
  • Repeat sentences back to children, replacing mistakes with corrections
  • Repeat sentences back to children, expanding on the words they’ve used
  • Describe and comment on what you’re doing
  • Describe and comment on what the children are doing
  • Label objects and actions
  • Listen carefully when the children are talking to you – be patient and give them plenty of time to find their words


The last point about listening is particularly important to remember, as it’s a skill that many children find difficult to master themselves’.

Provide stimulating activities

Practically everything you do with children in an early years setting is an opportunity for developing speech and language skills, but it’s worth taking some time to consider whether you could improve on existing activities and/or introduce some new ones. Whatever you do, remember that the main thing is to make it fun so that the children stay engaged.

Sing songs

This is a particularly important activity to do with babies and younger children, as there is such a strong link between singing and early language development. Singing songs to/with very young children can help them learn to differentiate sounds and recognise rhymes, as well as extending their vocabulary and developing their memory.

Daniel Dwase, editor of the online Child Development Guide, states ‘Singing nursery rhymes and simple songs teaches children how language is constructed and assists with the acquisition of language’.

Describing and guessing games

There are lots of games that involve describing and guessing but here are a couple of specific ideas: 1) choose some objects with the children, put them in a bag and get the children to take turns feeling and describing them while the others guess what they are.

So therefore, I decided to adopt the singing method as suggested by Daniel Dwase and playing the guessing game. I made a few changes to the game by adding a box with a lid and called it, ‘What’s in the box?’ as opposed to using a bag. The reason for this is that I found that children enjoyed opening presents and therefore were willing to join in and stay focused for a long period of time.

An Overview of Practice.

I chose to start my research by looking at our baseline data.

The table below shows that children entered reception in 2018 with a low baseline score in CL, which had an impact on PSE, Refer to table 1.

Table 1

Listening and Attention Understanding Speaking Self- confidence and self-Awareness Managing feelings and behaviour Making relationships
Reception 33.6%












Boys 30.9%












Girls 36.4%












SEN 0.0%












EAL 32.3%













After having analysed the baseline data for 2018, it was evident that approximately 64% of the children who entered Reception, found it difficult to concentrate on a task and listen to adult instructions. The children also found it difficult to understand the meaning of words, concepts and how to follow instructions to play games and making sense of what is being said to them. The children also had problems with using language. They had difficulty with words and sentence structure. They struggled to express themselves in play and activities or tell people how they feel. As a result, the children’s development of social skills, their sense of self and others, and their ability to form relationships and learn had been affected by speech and language problems.

Difficulties in one or more of these areas can have a profound impact on a child’s experience of their early education. How each child is affected will depend on the degree of difficulty and personal factors, such as, following routines, complex sentences, expressing themselves, attention and listening and behaviour problem.


Planned Actions

A ‘theory of change’ flow chart was completed to help me plan my goal and the actions which I must take towards my outcome.

The language and communication intervention was delivered by the class teacher or the Teaching Assistant for 14 weeks, comprising two (am and pm) 10-15-minute group sessions (to group of 8 children).

During the intervention, the children were reminded of the rules. The participants kept their hands on their laps and the children that were watching the game, had to put their hands behind their back.  The children sang a song to introduce themselves to the group.

Hello ……..,


Hello….., its nice to see you here.

We continued to sing the song until all the children had introduced themselves.

Eight boxes were placed in the middle of the table. In turns, the children sang a song and joined in with the actions,

‘What’s in the box?,

What’s in the box?,

(name of child), (name of child),

What’s in the box’?


A child then chose a box, takes the lid off, and names the object and as their confidence develops, the child starts using adjectives and conjunctions. I.e. I can see a black cat playing with a ball because the cat likes balls.

As suggested in, First Discoverer, the following points were considered whilst carrying out the intervention.

  • Speak clearly and calmly
  • Use age-appropriate language
  • Make eye contact (get down to the child’s level if necessary)
  • Repeat sentences back to children, replacing mistakes with corrections
  • Repeat sentences back to children, expanding on the words they’ve used
  • Describe and comment on what you’re doing
  • Describe and comment on what the children are doing
  • Label objects and actions
  • Listen carefully when the children are talking to you – be patient and give them plenty of time to find their words


At the end of the intervention, the children sang a goodbye song;


‘Goodbye (name of the child)

Goodbye (Name of the child)

Goodbye (name of the child),

It’s time to say goodbye’.

These sessions focused on improving children’s vocabulary, active listening and building confidence in independent speaking.


The children were assessed prior intervention, following completion of the intervention.

The bar graph above, illustrates that from Baseline to Autumn End of Term, children on average made one-step in progress in the following categories being: Speaking, Self Confidence and Making Relationships. However, this data was taken prior to any in class interventions.

Whilst interpreting this graph, we can conclude that overall majority of the children made a three-step progress from End of Autumn to End of Spring Term, due to the introduction of in class intervention on a daily basis. Despite Pupil H, not following the trend previously highlighted, they have however made at least one step progress from Autumn Term.

In addition, parental responses were very positive, for example, Pupil H’s mum said, “he is talking so much at home. I am so happy”. Pupil F’s dad said, “My child’s sentences are very interesting now, he is using conjunctions”


In conclusion, it was evident, from the data displayed, that intervention, within the classroom was highly effective in supporting SEN and EAL children with speech and language difficulties. In addition, developing the children’s language skills was having a positive impact on the other areas of learning.

There was an increase of interaction between adults to peers and peers to peers. They were able to speak with confidence and it was also improving their social, emotional, and academic development.


The piece of action research has had the following impact on the children’s ability;

  • develop children’s language skills despite the cuts in funding.
  • a positive impact in the other areas of learning.
  • to speak in full sentences.
  • to be able to express themselves.
  • An increase of interaction between adults to peers and peers to peers.
  • Able to speak with confidence and it was also improving their social, emotional, and academic development.
  • Building self esteem
  • Helping children to make sense of the world around them.
  • Having parental support contributed to the success of this project.
  • Early intervention will be planned and delivered in class from September 2019.



  • Set yourself realistic goals
  • Do you have support from leadership and from your staff?
  • Are the parents willing to support you?
  • Timetable in the sessions.