There is no doubt about the importance and impact of language and communication skills in today’s world; children and young people need to develop good communication skills to be able to learn, know how to behave and to enjoy life to the full. We have plenty of evidence telling us about the impact of language skills on attainment; did you know that vocabulary at age 5 is a strong predictor of the qualifications achieved at school leaving age and beyond? So it is ever more vital for us to ensure we help and support children and young people to hone their skills.
Within education, there are a number of developments that have put communication skills at the forefront of practice. For example, communication has a strong position in the new Ofsted inspection framework, both in relation to teaching and learning. How well pupils develop and apply their skills in communication and how well communication is taught are evaluated as part of the inspection process. The revised national curriculum, introduced in September 2014, no longer has a specific focus on speaking and listening but instead talks about ‘spoken language’. The curriculum tells us that “teachers should develop pupils’ spoken language, reading, writing and vocabulary as integral aspects of the teaching of every subject”.
So, adults in schools play a key role in supporting spoken language and the development of a classroom learning environment which fosters the language needed for thinking and learning. Effective teaching supports children’s communication skills using strategies such as:
- weaving talking and listening opportunities into the fabric of lessons
- teaching good listening skills and helping children to focus on the key information by teaching the key behaviours behind good listening
- teaching vocabulary explicitly and providing opportunities for repetition and revision
- careful questioning techniques
All children and young people will benefit from teachers placing language and communication skills central to teaching and learning. However, although many children begin their school life with the language skills needed for learning, a significant number struggle – statistics tell us that one in ten children have some kind of persistent speech, language and communication need (SLCN) which means two or three in every class. In fact in some parts of the country, particularly in areas of social deprivation, upwards of 50% of children start school without the language skills they need for learning. Key to enabling them to reach their potential is the ability of teaching staff to identify those who are struggling early and put the right support in place.
Organisations like I CAN (www.ican.org.uk/resources) provide free, downloadable resources to enable teaching staff to identify which children are struggling e.g. posters outlining ‘What’s Typical Talk at Primary and Secondary?’. The Talking Point website (www.talkingpoint.org.uk) also provides free information about typical language development and tips for supporting communication development. Of course, there will always be children who teachers are concerned about. The I CAN Help Enquiry Service is a free, confidential callback or email service for any school staff with any questions about a child’s communication development (www.ican.org.uk/help).
With language and communication skills playing such a central role in teaching and learning, effective support can make a real difference to children as they progress through school.
About the author
Mandy Grist is a Communication Advisor for I CAN. She is a specialist speech and language therapist who has worked in schools and educational settings since 1996. She keeps abreast of policy and legislation in the fields of speech and language therapy and education, and provides advice and information to others, both within and externally to I CAN.