Inspired by communication champions and best practice
Last Friday, a team of 25 judges came together to decide the results of this year’s Shine a Light Awards.
This year Pearson Clinical Assessment and The Communication Trust, were once again incredibly lucky to have an exceptional panel of judges from across the education and speech and language sector.
We welcomed back past experts who now know our judging process extremely well, new members whose understanding of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and local practices helped to inform and guide our decisions, and past Shine a Light award winners whose stories have clearly gone on to inspire others.
Secreted away in the basement with a supply of coffee and croissants, our three panels turned their attention to the unenviable task of deciding this year’s winners and highly commended finalists. Tears and tantrums at the ready….!
There were certainly a few tears as we made our way through the shortlisted applications; and the applications that we read left many of us feeling humbled and inspired. We heard about the exceptional best practice taking place across England – strategic activities that have had demonstrable impact on students’ lives; watched our young people nominees who have speech and language difficulties and have worked tirelessly to overcome them, inspire other young people and give back to those who have supported them; as well as exceptional innovative and community-based projects that have improved children’s opportunities to learn, and helped them to participate fully in society.
For now, that is as much as I am going to tell you about this year’s winners. We’re keeping the results a secret and in true Oscars style announcing them on the 24th September. So make a date for your diary, and follow #SAL2015 on twitter, as we’ll soon be shining a light on the outstanding work of these settings and individuals.
In the school year just gone, The Key asked some of the country’s school leaders what health and safeguarding issues affecting their pupils they were concerned about, if any. Top of the list was children’s mental health, with 67% of those surveyed saying this was a worry. Domestic violence and cyber bullying were next, of concern to more than half of those surveyed (58% and 55% respectively) – followed by bullying and obesity (38% and 36%).
All such issues not only have implications for the classroom – affecting pupils’ concentration levels and consequently their grades – but also life beyond the school gates, with unresolved issues likely to have a serious impact on children’s prospects.
School staff work tirelessly to do the best for their pupils, and increasing numbers of schools are employing their own counsellors or drawing on voluntary services to tackle the complex issues they’re facing. We, too, have seen leaders coming to The Key for help with things like writing a mental health policy, how to boost children’s self-esteem and what to do if a pupil is self-harming.
However, many of the school leaders my team and I speak to are frustrated at not having access to the professional support they need to best help their pupils.
Gary House, headteacher of Lady Hawkins’ School and Sixth Form in Herefordshire, explained that as well as a range of social factors, he sees his pupils contending with pressure after pressure in a school context. He’s also worried about the impact of the extra pressure on school staff who aren’t equipped to provide specialist help:
“With declining social services support due to diminishing council budgets, more and more is having to be dealt with in schools. We take our duty of care seriously, but to do the best for our students, specialist mental health support services are needed. If we are not careful a dangerous cycle will develop; students worrying and teachers suffering as they worry about not having the specialist skills to support students in need of mental health care.”
Our survey found that Gary’s view is mirrored across primary and secondary, maintained, academy and privately-funded independent schools; the profession wants to help but specialist support often isn’t available locally.
I know of a secondary school in north London that is fortunate to have a CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) worker based in school once a week to help identify and support students in need, as well as train and supervise staff. The school has other fantastic initiatives too, such as non-teaching managers for every year group, who carry out daily check-ins and build up good relationships with students and parents. It also has an effective transition programme which ensures its pastoral team receives essential information from primary schools, so it can make appropriate support available to incoming students as soon as possible.
Sadly, not every school has the resources to offer this type of support structure, but there are other things schools can realistically do – for example:
Collaborate with other schools locally and look into jointly hiring a specialist
Arrange wellbeing training for staff from multiple schools locally, and/or hold regular cross-school meetings to share experiences and views
Dedicate some form/tutor time to discussing subjects like cyber bullying, keeping safe and managing stress
Even with such measures, there’s only so much that schools can achieve alone, and our survey findings on school leaders’ concerns suggest that there is a long way to go. The government’s promised investment in addressing children’s mental health issues is a good start; let’s hope it’s directed in such a way that all schools up and down the country can call on high-quality specialist support to protect the wellbeing of children and young people in their care.
Shona Crichton from The Communication Trust writes about 'Parents as partners for better speech, language and communication outcomes'.1
We know that children make progress in any area of their development when they can be supported to thrive in the place and with the people where they spend the most time and who know them best. Parents are experts on their children and provide information that is integral to ensuring that a child or young person makes the best progress that they can. However there may be challenges when striving to achieve good practice for including parents in supporting children’s speech, language and communication development.
The new SEND Code of Practice highlights the importance of engaging and involving parents and families. Those working with children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), or any SEND, have a responsibility to ensure that parents are engaged with and involved in decisions that affect their child.
It’s likely that every practitioner reading this blog has examples of times where we achieve true collaborative working with parents, and times when it doesn’t work so well. What is it that we need to be aware of when working with parents to support their child’s speech, language and communication at home?
Ensuring parents are real partners - Parents want to be included as real partners, with true collaboration taking place. The challenge is not only that every child is different, but every SLCN is different, and every family is different. Taking time to share with parents their experiences of home life and their child’s SLCN, and your understanding and perception of the child’s strengths and needs will help towards partnership working that is meaningful to both parent and practitioner.
It doesn’t have to be extra – Discussing what home life is like with parents provides an opportunity to think about how language and communication can be woven in to elements of daily life that are happening already. For some parents, the thought of squeezing extra in to busy lives is just not manageable. However, the beauty of speech, language and communication is that it’s part of everything that we do. Discussing what life is like for families and working together to think about where and how speech and language targets might sit in their daily routine can be a great first step to integrating targets in to daily life. Prepositions in the bath or practising turn taking during tea-time means that speech, language and communication targets can become part of daily life.
Consider parents’ views and wishes - The Better Communication Research Programme sought views of parents with children with speech, language and communication needs. Findings from this paper show that parents are generally concerned with long term outcomes for their children – parents want their children to be included socially and to achieve independence. As practitioners working with children and young people with SLCN, our skill is in understanding parents’ long term wishes for their children. We can then break these down in to manageable, attainable short term targets that link with the long term aims that everyone can work towards achieving.
Keep parents informed – The same research also highlighted that parents like to be kept informed of how children are getting on in achieving their objectives, and that this was different across the parents who were interviewed – some wanted a weekly update on progress, others were happy to meet to discuss targets on a 6 monthly basis. Discuss with parents how and when they’d like to discuss their child’s progress with you.
The Communication Trust is a coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication and SLCN. Although our main audience is the children and young people’s workforce, we also have some information that’s useful for parents as do many of our members. Take a look at our website for more ideas and resources to help you encourage parents to support their children’s speech, language and communication development at home.