Teacher’s Petition to include Speech and Language in teacher training

A specialist speech and language teacher in Lincolnshire has launched a petition calling on the government to include Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) as part of any initial teacher training package.

Emma Broddle, who works for the county’s ECLIPS service, says:

“I have always been passionate about SLCN since working in a specialist school as a TA many years ago but was surprised by the lack of training in the area throughout my teacher training.”

Emma Broddle's petition
Emma Broddle's petition

Recent research (Law, 2012; Norbury, 2015) consistently shows that children with speech and language needs far outnumber those with autism. Yet teachers often lack the training and experience to recognise this as a cause of difficulty in learning and socialisation. Emma recalls:

“When working as a primary teacher, all too often I would hear of children being labelled as naughty or that they cannot listen or follow instructions. Really, we need to be training teachers about SLCN and how to identify the signs in a classroom to stop children being branded with these labels.”

Here's a simple example of the type of teaching strategy which supports children with speech and language needs: “wait time” allows children to process information and construct their own responses rather than being overlooked in the classroom. Experts advise teachers that, instead of waiting 2-3 seconds, they should allow anything up to 12 seconds for the child with language needs to respond.

The strategy includes showing other children in the class how to use that time to improve their own learning, too. Robert Stahl researched the method in depth; and the American teaching coach Doug Lemov, founder of the Teach Like A Champion movement, also promotes ‘wait time’ as an important tool. Teachers can use many other approaches to create an environment which supports communication skills. Yet the DfE’s own research paper published in 2012 reported that:

“only half of the teachers in the lessons observed were using specific strategies to include the pupils with significant language and literacy needs, such as use of visual aids to support what they were saying, presenting key words visually or using diagrams.”

The report also concluded that:

“… despite their lower levels of language and academic performance, pupils with LI [language impairment] are likely to attract fewer resources than pupils with ASD.”

Therapists, teachers and support staff have welcomed early intervention projects like ELKLAN. The DfE have funded this popular training programme through the National Children’s Bureau and ELKLAN courses are available across the country. A community-based resource promoted by the Communication Trust, called Talk of The Town, has been developed with grant-funding and has been positively evaluated.

  • Read all our speech and language columnist posts from Helen Coleman and Liz Gunner at SpeechblogUK

These two projects show that the field of speech and language therapy and teaching is changing. It's moving away from traditional, clinic-based therapy as part of paediatric health services and towards speech and language development as a fundamental part of education in schools and in the community. Another example of this trend is the emergence of ‘teletherapy’ (or ‘telehealth’, as the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists refers to it).

Martha Currie, a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist, founded Mable Therapy to deliver intervention in schools on a digital platform. Fully qualified speech therapists deliver live speech therapy and training directly to schools. Like Emma, Martha sees weaknesses in professional training and confidence when it comes to speech and language development:

“The discrepancies in the knowledge of speech, language and communication difficulties across settings are vast. The difference between a school with an excellent SLCN provision and a school with a poorer one usually comes down to the knowledge, motivation and diligence of individual staff members.”

Asked what’s needed to drive real change in this area, Martha is very clear:

“Speech and language therapists are not currently accountable enough for progress and impact of the interventions they use with children and school staff. We know that speech and language therapy impacts positively on behaviour and self-esteem. We know that it has a huge impact on literacy and understanding. The evidence of this impact on communication across the curriculum is what will drive changes in teacher training.”

Low achievement risk for 5-year-olds with poor language and literacy

A report published by Save The Children last year stated that:

“A child’s language skills at the age of two have a strong influence on their school readiness at the age of five, and this can continue to affect how children get on at school as they grow up. Five-year-olds with poor language and literacy development face a substantially higher risk of low achievement at age seven and beyond.”

But, as I pointed out on Monday, government didn't act on the recommendation of the Bercow report back in 2008 to include speech, language and communication as a core requirement of teacher training. The focus on speech and language development in teacher training is fuzzy and the emphasis remains on autism. The National Autistic Society sent a to the Education Secretary in March calling for teachers to receive training in autism when they join the profession. 7,000 people signed it and Nicky Morgan responded personally. She asked Stephen Munday, chair of the government’s teacher training review, to give greater focus to SEND and, in particular, to autism.

In May of this year Adam Boddison, chief executive of Nasen (a national charity supporting teachers of SEND), welcomed the announcement that core training would include specific attention to autism but added:

“However, there is still further work to do as the scale and complexity of SEND in schools is much broader than autism alone. 

“Nasen would like to see a significant proportion of initial teacher education content allocated to supporting the full range of individual needs of children and young people.”

Emma Broddle hopes to reach 10,000 signatures on her petition to ensure that government will respond. You can do several things to help:

  • Sign the petition here
  • Send the link to your school or early years setting and ask them to sign too
  • Contact the Communication Trust to add your voice.

Every child’s right to language is protected by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It's essential that they – and you - receive the right support. Better training is a priority for Emma, for us and for every child with speech, language and communication needs. Make your voice heard...

Barney Angliss, @AspieDeLaZouch
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