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I CAN's Early Talk Programme:


Independent evaluation of the impact of Early Talk on addressing speech, communication & language needs in Sure Start Children's Centre settings

Dr Judy Whitmarsh, Dr Michael Jopling, Prof Mark Hadfield

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Conclusion

This section summarises the findings already outlined and is structured around the evaluation's research objectives. children's centres were evaluated in three groups:

Stage 1 centres: at least 6 months post ET accreditation;

Stage 2 centres: approaching accreditation or up to 6 months post-accreditation;

Stage 3 centres: in the early stages of, or considering, implementation.

Influence on staff

  • There were strong indications that Stage 1 centres experienced a deeper level of cultural change following involvement in ET than Stage 2 centres in that they placed SLC more centrally in their pedagogy and focused on it more persistently.
  • In some Stage 1 centres there were indications of a professional learning community forming around speech, language and communication (SLC), as ET and other initiatives were embedded. The formation of these communities supported a much deeper understanding of, and reflection on, SLC by practitioners.
  • ET played a valuable role in integrating personal understanding of SLC with centres' institutionalisation of good practice in SLC.
  • Institutionalising SLC in children's centres has improved the way some centres nearing and post-accreditation identify and address children's SLC needs. However, it is difficult to determine how far this was related to ET as centres were all involved in other concurrent SLC initiatives such as ECaT.
  • Practitioners in Stage 1 centres demonstrated greater depth of understanding of the pedagogical motivations underpinning the changes they had made to the learning environment.
  • ET leads in Stage 1 and 2 centres identified a greater range of methods to promote good language practice than in Stage 3 centres.
  • Managers associated increased staff confidence and an enhanced ability to identify SLC difficulties with engagement in ET in Stage 1 and 2 centres.
  • In conjunction with other initiatives like ECaT, a wide range of practitioners' skills were enhanced by their increased focus on, and training for, SLC.
  • Practitioners in all centres found it difficult to distinguish between the impact of ET and ECaT as they became so intertwined in practice.
  • Managers and practitioners in stage 1 and 2 settings felt ET had made them more confident in making earlier identification of speech language and communication needs and developing strategies to support children in the centre.

Meeting the needs of children

  • ET leads in Stage 1 centres identified greater improvement in children's communicative behaviour than those in Stage 2 centres.
  • LAs stated that ET had improved practitioners' ability to develop in-house strategies to support children with additional/special needs and had a positive impact on the referral rate for speech language and communication needs (SLCN).
  • There was evidence in some centres of a tendency to 'treat' children with English as a second language (EAL) on a deficit model, rather than focusing on the potential benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism for SLC development.

Parents' and carers' perspectives

  • Based on a sample of 62, 40 per cent of parents surveyed were aware of the ET programme.
  • The largest group of parents noticing change in SLC provision was in Stage 2 centres. However, over half of Stage 3 parents had also noticed changes in how speech and language were promoted, perhaps reflecting the current enhanced status of SLC overall. Fewer Stage 1 parents had noticed changes, which may reflect the institutionalisation of good SLC practice in these centres following ET accreditation and involvement in other SLC initiatives.
  • EAL was regarded by some Stage 2 and 3 centres as a barrier to parental engagement, whereas Stage 1 centres were more likely to perceive engaging with parents as a two-way relationship.

Accreditation, gaps and overlaps

  • The ET accreditation process needs to be flexible to address the range of provision of SLC in children's centres and their contexts.
  • LAs and children's centres had a range of experiences of mentoring. Two of the LAs interviewed used mentors from other programmes such as ECaT to support the ET mentoring process.

Other SLC programmes

  • ECaT was the most common programme used after or in tandem with ET.
  • LAs perceived ET as an acceptable baseline for good SLC practice and in two LAs it was treated as a pre-requisite before centres could engage in what they perceived as the more challenging ECaT programme.
  • Although many practitioners perceived ET and ECaT as almost interchangeable, managers and lead practitioners regarded them as complementary but distinct.

Implementing the recommendations in John Bercow MP's independent A Review of Services for Children and Young people (0– 19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs

  • ET was used effectively in the three LAs interviewed as a tool to upskill the workforce; one LA claimed it could provide statistical evidence of this.
  • ET appeared to promote the primacy of SLC in children's centres and the early identification of SLCN.
  • ET was considered to add to effective observation and monitoring techniques, although it was used less than ECaT to monitor child SLC progress.

Overarching conclusions

  • Viewed as a whole, it appeared that ET offered an appropriate balance of support and challenge to consolidate and extend existing good practice in SLC and identify areas for development where practice was less effective.
  • ET is relatively light touch and has been used effectively as a 'primer' for other programmes, notably Every Child a Talker (ECaT), explicitly by some local authorities (LAs).
  • Some LAs did not appear to have sufficient capacity to deliver or coordinate effective mentoring for ET. Others used ECaT consultants as ET mentors, which may affect the use and implementation of ET once ECaT funding is withdrawn in 2011.
  • There was some evidence that where extensive support was required for centres to improve, for example around SLC training or leadership, ET mentoring was not always sufficient to meet centres' needs.
  • It is difficult to gauge the sustainability of ET as it is so deeply intertwined with other SLC initiatives. For example, in some areas, ECaT monitoring tools have supported the implementation of ET, which makes it hard to determine the boundaries between initiatives and their impacts.