It is good to talk! Boosting speech and language development

Posted on 3rd May 2018 in Prep Schools Guide, Curriculum

Rebecca Chere discusses how speech and language development are cornerstones to academic development and success...

As part of our school’s commitment to academic excellence, we allocate resources to speech and language development, particularly with our youngest pupils. The formative years of learning are crucial and speech and language development is pivotal. We also invest heavily in pupils’ use of technology, particularly as the rise of technology purveys much of modern learning. This is a parallel here that many parents will be fully aware of in their own homes, both in the reading their children do, but also the increasing availability of technological devices.

However, we are the generation witnessing the growth of technological gadgets that are used increasingly as a stimulus to replace more traditional conversation time. This poses a potential threat to pupils’ spoken language development. Recent headlines in newspapers constantly warn of the changes: ‘Tablets and smartphones damage toddlers’ speech development’, ‘Kids Who Use Smartphones Start Talking Later’. Research reports are summarised and articles written, yet are people taking heed of the warnings? As a school which achieves high academic results, our practitioners have seen a growing rise in the number of children attending our nursery that require speech and language developmental support. This is a common observation in many of the schools in our sector. As a result, in recent years we have put together a highly successful programme of speech and language support that enables all our pupils to make excellent progress and achieve their very best. So, for a parent, what are the key lessons that can be learnt?

National research has shown a clear relationship between Speech and Language development and academic attainment. Competence in oral language and the resulting transition to literacy is crucial as a protective factor in ensuring later academic success. This impact on educational attainment is strongest in the areas of literacy and numeracy. ‘I Can’, the children’s communication charity, presents the following facts:

  • By 22 months – a child’s language development can predict educational outcomes at age 26.
  • By 2 years – 75% of a child’s brain growth has occurred.
  • By ages 3-6 years – a child’s narrative skills are a powerful predictor of literacy skill at 8-12 years.
  • By 5 years – a child’s vocabulary will predict their educational success and outcomes at age 30.

We need to be mindful that speech and language delays are relatively common and if supported by both home and school should enable delays or difficulties to be detected early so that intervention programmes can be implemented to support pupils’ developmental needs.

Communication and language development in the Early Years is one of the prime areas in the Early Years curriculum (alongside Physical Development, and Personal Social and Emotional Development). In conjunction with the well documented link between children’s speech and language development and their academic success we are very aware of the social and emotional well-being of children that have delayed language development. Speech and language delay can have a significant impact on pupils’ self-esteem and their ability to build strong relationships.

Prep Schools with Early Years settings are increasingly investing heavily in the speech and language development and developing staff expertise to deliver extra speech and language support. Our practitioners work alongside an external Speech Therapist and the school Learning Skills Leader to deliver bespoke intervention programmes to individual and small groups of children.

One approach that has worked effectively is to screen all the pupils at the beginning of the Reception year for their language development. Areas include listening skills, understanding of concepts, verb tenses, pronouns, the pupils ability to follow instructions questioning and reasoning and vocabulary. The key to a successful programme is to ensure value is placed on the partnership between home and school. Parental workshops are an opportunity for our staff to share their knowledge with parents, to explain supportive activities that can be completed at home to enhance pupils’ progress. All staff work closely with parents to ensure reinforcement at home, thus maximising children’s potential for improving their developmental language.

With early intervention and support from home, most children overcome any speech and language difficulties by the end of the Reception year. So, as a parent it is not something to be fearful of, but something that enables effective academic development in the formative years, thus further enhancing self esteem and pupil confidence.

In our school, all year groups (class teacher, specialist teachers, teaching assistants) throughout the school meet on a regular basis with the Academic Deputy Head, the Pastoral Deputy Head and the Learning Skills Leader in order to track all pupil progress. These meetings allows the staff to identify whether interventions are needed to provide children with additional support in a particular area, and to discuss what strategies need to be explored if a pupil’s level of progress is not on target.

A large proportion of our pupils have gone on to achieve high level academic success through such provision. So, as a parent, should you have any concerns or worries regarding your child’s speech and language development, do engage with your child’s school. Schools are well equipped to deal with such parental anxieties and by working together in partnership can ensure those initial obstacles to learning are quick overcome.

Pupils in our school are often described by visitors to the school as ‘confident, yet not arrogant’. We take great pride in ensuring that all our pupils are good communicators. As well as carefully designed speech and language programmes, it is the public speaking opportunities that all pupils partake in throughout their time at Woodford Green Prep that supports and encourages this confidence. Assemblies, speech and drama contests, singing competitions, year group drama productions, touring prospective visitors and delegates, are all examples of public speaking occasions that allow the children the opportunity to develop their communication skills. Good communication is one of the most important life skills. As an independent school, we have the autonomy to invest in areas of critical importance and speech and language is one we value highly.

As the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.”

The world is changing at such a rapid pace it is hard to predict what jobs our pupils will be working at tomorrow. Yet we can be certain that good communication skills will always be valued by future employers and more importantly will be the key to our students having prosperous and fulfilling relationships.

Rebecca Chere is Deputy Head, Academic of Woodford Green Preparatory School in Essex.