Research School Network: Developing pupils’ language capabilities Speech, language and communication skills are pivotal in shaping academic success and then beyond

Developing pupils’ language capabilities

Speech, language and communication skills are pivotal in shaping academic success and then beyond

by Huntington Research School
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Speech, language and communication skills are pivotal in shaping academic success and then beyond as they lay the foundation for effective collaboration, teamwork, and social interaction.

In the EEF’s suite of literacy guidance reports, spoken language recommendations feature at every phase, showing the importance of spoken language as it underpins all other aspects of literacy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is breadth of potential approaches to such a key issue. This blog uses three different lenses to consider your response: system level; interventions; wider strategies. A later blog in this series will look at classroom strategies.

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System level response (Early Talk for York: by Rob Newton, Associate Strategic Director, Huntington Research School)

York has been particularly successful in improving speech, language and communication outcomes in the early years (ages 05) through a long term, evidence based local area approach called Early Talk for York. The approach has seen outcomes improve over the last few years, with significant reductions in the disadvantage gap’ in stark contrast to outcomes across the country.

The approach works across disciplines: health, education, care and community and voluntary sectors and you can read more about the detail of activity in the Early Talk for York roadmap. Importantly, representatives from all the listed sectors continue to sit on the project steering group so that as the process evolves it continues to be a joined up approach. Funding streams have been accessed at various points to support aspects of the project but this has been able to be done because the key stakeholders have continued to meet and provide a combined response.

Fundamental to the success of Early Talk for York has been the careful attention to the importance of high quality implementation and evaluation along the way to ensure coherence and responsiveness to local context during times of constant change. Through this process, the team have identified six active ingredients that they believe other local areas wishing to follow a similar approach should consider:

1. A relentless focus on speech, language and communication as a top priority that impacts on whole of life outcomes.
2. Investment in high quality training that is sustained and quality assured.
3. Supported cascading of training to influence the development of whole teams.
4. Universal screening of children’s needs using a standardised tool.
5. Ongoing support of specialists who are proactive in responding to emerging needs.
6. Peer and social support and accountability on delivering the elements above, including working in partnership with parents/​carers.

The six active ingredients are relevant even if you are approaching the issue from the perspective of a group of schools, or even a single school. In the next section we look at some of the logistics to consider around step 4.

Diagnosis and intervention section (Marcus Jones, Huntington Research School)

Despite internationally accepted prevalence figures of 7%, only 3% of the school population is ever identified as having SLCN. Children are being missed.
Communication Trust, 2017

Having the right assessment tools available for spoken language is important: however, writing that statement is far easier than enacting it. Literacy assessments more broadly, will accomplish different things: ranking pupils, predicting future outcomes, identifying areas for improvement. And spoken language assessments often have the added logistical complication of requiring 121 teacher to student ratios to undertake (the alternative is often self-report which comes with its own drawbacks). There is not one assessment tool that all schools and settings should be using but the tables below aim to:

a. suggest areas of consideration for what you require from the assessment
b. provide some starting points for uncovering assessment tools available

Spoken language

Wider school strategies

Providing different purposes and contexts for talk is another strand some schools and settings may wish to consider. As the KS2 Literacy Guidance Report suggests this might include:

- collaborative learning activities where pupils can share their thought processes;
- reading books aloud and discussing them, including use of structured questioning; and
- pupils articulating their ideas verbally before writing

It may also include wider presenting or public speaking opportunities, as seen in this case study.

Primary school case study (Sophie Law, Primary School Teacher and ELE for Huntington Research School)

I teach in a fantastic school in Bradford where we value pupil talk and voice. We are situated in an area with high deprivation: 86.4% of the school cohort live in the 30% most deprived areas of England. Developing oracy is therefore crucial. Investing in oracy increases not only engagement in learning but improves academic outcomes and empowers students’ social and emotional confidence.

One of the ways we promote oracy is through assemblies. We hold weekly oracy assemblies where individuals or small groups present to a large audience. During the course of each academic year, at least half of each class should have the chance to contribute. We try and provide our pupils with an authentic audience where possible. The topics and structure of these presentations vary. They may be a:

- speech based on something they feel strongly about
- summary or recall of their learning in a specific subject
- joke-telling session
- an open debate on a topic
- promotion of an out-of-school activity that they attend

When planning for presentational talk, we use the Voice 21 Oracy Framework to help select a particular strand to develop. For example, KS1 initially focus primarily on the physical strand, developing the pace of talk and voice projection.

Voice 21

Staff work with children to plan and prepare presentations, with increased support and scaffolding for those in KS1. Before presenting to a large audience, children will first gain their confidence through classroom community. Teacher’s build in opportunities for children to present their presentation to their peers before the day of the assembly and we encourage positive criticism and feedback from one-another. We aim to create a culture of support’ (Voice 21) and provide multi-opportunities to master the chosen framework strand.

We have found oracy assemblies to have positively impacted our children’s spoken language and confidence to speak aloud. Our school performances like Christmas nativities and drama productions have been advantaged and there is a clear improvement throughout the year as students gain confidence. Children have developed skills which will transpire into adult life and are becoming prepared for future employment whilst enhancing their communication skills.

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