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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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Findings: Objective 6

To evaluate how the ET programme meets the recommendations of the Bercow Report (2008), John Bercow MP's independent review of services for children and young people (0–19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs.

In order to focus this consideration of the ET programme's relevance to John Bercow MP's report, we have concentrated on two recommendations which appear most relevant to the development and implementation of the I Can ET programme at supportive level: Recommendations 8 and 11. In addition, as part of the analysis of the interviews with LAs, we have also included evidence relevant to Recommendation 19.

Recommendation 8 of John Bercow

Local authorities work together to undertake surveillance and monitoring of children and young people to identify potential SLCN across the age range, and particularly at key transition points.

The LAs interviewed mainly monitored SLCN by collating EYFS profiles and targeting support, which could include ET, towards centres with low scores for communication, language and literacy (CLL). One LA reviewed EYFS scores over a period and then identified whether low scores were due to the population or a gap in practitioner skills. Following extensive input of ET and SLC, they observed a 5 per cent improvement in 2010 in the N172 score (number of children scoring 78 across all areas of the EYFS plus the percentage of children scoring 6+ on CLL and personal, social & emotional development areas of EYFS). Local authorities also routinely monitored SLT referrals and waiting lists.

Recommendation 11 of John Bercow

To help ensure that where a SLCN is identified, appropriate provision is available to intervene promptly, we recommend that speech, language and communication is prioritised by all children's centres and that it is a primary focus for measuring every child's progress.

This evidence gathered in this report suggests that children's speech, language and communication were a prime focus of all the centres near or post-accreditation for ET. It also demonstrates that in centres which were considerably post-accreditation (Stage 1), ET leads identified a greater change in children's communicative behaviour. Furthermore, Stage 1 and 2 centres discussed a greater range of methods to promote good language practice than Stage 3 centres and related a number of changes to the environment which reflected ET principles, although the ALERT scores discussed above reveal that it is not a straightforward issue to associate changes with ET. The most that can be said is that ET is one of a number of initiatives, headed by ECaT, which appears to have promoted the primacy of SLC in children's centres. The evidence accumulated above suggests that practitioners perceived that ET gave them knowledge, skills and confidence not only to identify delay and disability earlier, but to develop strategies to address the needs of all children.

As noted earlier, monitoring in the centres mainly used ECaT assessment sheets together with Learning Journeys, EYFS tracking and profiling. Although ET supports monitoring and observation of children as good practice, half the centres offered the research team ECaT assessment procedures as an example of their SLC primacy and good practice. Nevertheless, centres had found that the increased focus of SLC using both ECaT and ET had resulted in greater practitioner confidence; earlier identification of SLCN; and strategies to support children with additional needs. Post- ECaT, many centres planned to continue monitoring child SLC progress using ECaT documentation; this could be further developed by I Can to support evidence of the impact of ET in children's centres.

Recommendation 19 of John Bercow

The commissioning framework includes advice on:
- how to assess the range of skills in local children's workforces;
-how to identify the right skills and capacity mix required in the children's workforce to deliver services and agreed outcomes, including staff with specialist skills able effectively to assess and support children and young people with SLCN;
-how to develop the workforce by identifying and addressing skills or capacity 'gaps'; and
-how to develop effective collaborative practice between different services and members of the workforce.

LA interviewees felt that ET and ECaT were addressing gaps in practitioner (and workforce) skills. In LA1 and LA3 ET was seen as a vital tool to up-skill practitioners and as a "tool for workforce development". In two of the LAs interviewed, some form of prioritising for ET had been made following the positive response from settings. Comments from interviewees on ET ranged from "good and successful" to "excellent" with both LAs and staff in children's centres seeing ET as a means to enhance practitioner skills and thus enhance child communication.

Effective collaborative practice in relation to SLC was recognised by the LA interviewees at an operational level but not at a strategic level. Comments such as "challenging" and "messy at strategic level" were recorded. ET was also seen as a useful means of developing partnership between health and education services by LA interviewees. However, the children's centres' perceptions of collaborative partnership between health and education were more mixed. This seemed to depend to some extent on proximity. Where SaLTs were on site, staff spoke of health and education agencies working well together. Where this was not the case, managers had found problems with information-sharing, obtaining ongoing information from SLT services, and lack of feedback. Many centres reported a lack of contact with SaLTs and lengthy waits for referral and those with limited access to SLT services felt they would benefit from greater access and input to them. There was evidence that implementing ET supported partnerships between agencies, as one practitioner stated:

It's different when the health worker is here once a week or every day. Staff [previously] were not sure about other people's roles and there were times where some staff could not even find where the community team was. You can't really trust somebody when you don't know who they are, what they do. [… After shadowing colleagues] I heard lots of practitioners say, "I never knew they were already doing all this" and discussing them and sharing with each other. (2-10)