Helping children with speech, language and communication needs catch up at school

20 October 2020

Helping children with speech, language and communication needs catch up at school

Jacky Wragg is a SENCO and an I CAN licensee. She is based in Essex where she delivers I CAN’s training and accreditation programmes to schools and early years settings.  

Barry Carpenter (2020) says, ‘5 losses, of routine, structure, friendship, opportunity and freedom, can trigger the emergence emotionally of anxiety, trauma and bereavement in any child. The overall impact cannot be underestimated.’ For pupils with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), the difficulty in talking about these losses makes it more challenging to overcome themIn addition, having faced months without access to therapy, teaching and intervention, pupils with SLCN will need additional support in the classroom now more than everSo how can we achieve this?  

A few years ago, I wrote this case study for The Communication Trust where I described how we had taken the Speech, Language and Communication Framework (SLCF) and used it to shape some training for our teaching assistants, and looked at the way support for children with SLCN was organised and provided across our schools. It’s helpful to look back on this now at a time when ‘catch-up’ has become a priority. We need to remember the huge impact that SLCN can have on academic achievement. Are your staff prepared to identify, assess and support pupils with SLCN on the return to school?  

After months of virtual lessons, it’s also important to create the right classroom environment to support communicationGood classroom organisation is key to creating a communication-friendly environment, and this benefits all children, not just those with SLCN. This needs to be complemented by staff’s use of interaction strategies, like asking questions that support children’s understanding and use of language, and responding to what children say by extending and expanding (Department for Education, Developing a communication supporting classrooms observation tool). A focus on ‘talk in the classroom’ can have a profound impact on children and young people’s learning and social interaction (The Communication Trust). I CAN’s checklist for creating a communication supportive environment provides simple tips to put this into practice.  

As well as ensuring your classroom is communication-friendly, the best way to instil support for SLCN in your school is to ensure staff are trained to support these needs. I CAN’s Early and Primary Talk or the three Talk Boost programmes are ideal for helping children with delayed language on their return to schoolWith many children struggling to engage in schoolwork during lockdown, along with the lack of opportunity to socialise with peersmore children could now be at risk of delayed language developmentThe good news is that some children with delayed language may be able to catch up to their peers with the right supportThe Talk Boost approach helps children to develop not only their understanding and use of language, but also other important skills like attention and listening and turn-taking, which can help ease them back into the school environment. 

To further develop staff’s ability to support SLCN, wider training for your school or setting may be helpful. The model for SLCN training that we use at The Eastern Partnership SEND has since been extended and now offers support staff an accredited level 4 award. This gives staff an opportunity to study and reflect on their own practice and the strategies implemented in their setting.  

While the current global situation is unprecedented, these methods for supporting SLCN remain effective and timeless. Now that children have returned to school, it’s an ideal time to renew your focus on speech, language and communication, and ensure that children are given the best chance possible at making up for lost time.  


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