Q & A from I CAN webinar

On 6th May 2020, Louisa Reeves, Lead Speech and language Advisor from I CAN, ran a webinar on behalf of GL Assessment on Speech, Language and Communication Needs. She looked at how they impact on attainment and social and emotional development and what works to identify and tackle SLCN in schools from Foundation Stage to Key Stage 4.

For a recording of the webinar, please click here. Please find below some of the Q & As from the session.

Primary / Early Years

You talked about what is 'typical'. Are there specific milestones we should expect children to have reached by specific years? How do we measure what is 'typical'?

Typically developing children follow a predictable pattern of their development in speech, language and communication skills. There are specific milestones which they should meet and it’s important for schools to know what these milestones are and be able to measure them so they can identify when children are falling behind. For further information, visit https://ican.org.uk/i-cans-talking-point/

How can WellComm be used effectively to support a child in Early Years with Speech and Language needs?

WellComm Early Years (suitable for those aged 6 months to 6 years) allows you to easily identify children who may be struggling with speech and language development. It is quick and simple to use (requiring no speech and language expertise) and provides traffic light reports. Also included in the toolkit is The Big Book of Ideas which provides around 150 instant, play-based activities so you can take action to support the children in your care straight away. Activities can also be shared with parents.

As a primary school we are using the WellComm Toolkit which seems to be working well. Is it important to have a trained I CAN member of staff in school too?

What we have seen is that where WellComm and I CAN's Talk Boost series are used together children with SLCN make good progress: https://ican.org.uk/training-licensing/i-can-programmes/talk-boost-ks1/

Please note, WellComm requires no specialist training and can be used by all who work with children in an educational setting.

What part can Teaching Assistants play within this support for students with SLCN?

Trained Teaching Assistants can deliver evidenced interventions such as I CAN's Talk Boost suite which is designed to help children with poor language skills catch up with their peers.

They can also administer the WellComm assessments (which require no specialist training) and implement the WellComm follow up intervention activities.

Funding for schools is obviously a challenge, are there any funding streams schools can access to help train staff and support students with SLCN?

Many schools we work with use the Early Years Pupil Premium or Pupil Premium as funding, there are some funders who support schools, including SHINE and the Laurel Trust.

How do you manage parents who deny the existence of the issue after presenting it to them?

I CAN has a Progress Checker online tool which parents can use to see how their child is doing. By answering a series of questions based on the developmental norms for children at different ages parents can see that their child may need support.

Can you suggest one or two simple strategies that all teachers can use in their teaching to support pupils with a language disadvantage?

Pausing - to allow processing/thinking time - helps all pupils to process what has been said and formulate their answer. Use visual support - images and graphics help to reinforce new words and concepts.

What resources/strategies would you recommend for vocab boosting?

Specific teaching of key vocabularyis really helpful for pupils with SLCN, there are a number of evidenced interventions available - visit https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/whatworks

We use WellComm and Early Boost. What interventions do you suggest for KS2 pupils?

The Big Book of Ideas within the WellComm Primary toolkit includes around 50 interventions you can use immediately. There is also Talk Boost KS2 https://ican.org.uk/training-licensing/i-can-programmes/talk-boost-ks2/

We are a primary school overseas. We have WellComm but would love some training. Is there any online training for it or for I CAN?

The WellComm toolkits include all the guidance you need to administer the assessment and the follow up interventions are colour coded so are easy to follow. The guidance also includes a brief overview of speech and language development.

I CAN can offer online training in our courses for overseas countries where English is a language used. Please contact info@ican.org.uk for more information.


What programme do you have to support secondary schools and what do you suggest we do in secondary when students return after lockdown to support missed emotional and social opportunities?

Young people are going to need a lot of support when they return to school. Having good language and communication skills provides opportunity for young people to talk about how they feel, share their experiences and form friendships - they will need time and support to do this on their return to school. I CAN has a secondary intervention: Talk About Talk Secondary (Talk for Work).

I work in a secondary school and run a reading catch-up programme called Fresh Start (a Ruth Miskin ReadWrite Inc programme). I am finding a large number of boys appear to have SLCN difficulties. How important is phonics in improving S&L?

Phonological development is the process by which children develop their understanding of the rules behind speech sound production.Phonics for reading does not follow this developmental sequence and doesn't directly match the range of speech sounds produced in English (or other languages).Supporting children's speech sound development, especially their ability to distinguish the difference between sounds, will support phonics for reading. In addition, work on understanding spoken language will support reading comprehension.

I teach in secondary and anecdotally there seems to be a significant correlation between screen time and S&L difficulties, in particular, low attaining boys and Fortnite is a real concern. How would you broach this issue with children and parents?

We often find that parents are unaware of the importance of spoken language skills and how young people need be exposed to language and conversation to develop these skills.When parents are made aware of things like the links between good language skills and GCSE grades and the value employers place on communication skills this sometimes help them to focus more on supporting this aspect of their child's development.

How can secondary schools bridge the gap, so that students with SLCN aren't disadvantaged when they move up to KS3?

Close liaison between primary schools and secondary schools is essential to makes sure that pupils’ SLCN is fully understood by all Y7 teachers not just the SEND department. I CAN's Moving On can be a useful resource to use with Y6 pupils to support transition.

Could you give some practical advice for delivery of lessons at secondary? What, in your opinion, are the essentials? For example, what proportion of speech should be supported by text/ PPT/ handouts etc.?

Visual support for learning is hugely supportive for students with SLCN. Key concepts and vocabulary can be illustrated and displayed as can the processes students need to follow to complete tasks.

Many of our SLCN pupils seem to ‘disappear’ once they hit secondary school. We struggle to get the secondary schools to engage. How do you suggest we could change this?

Drawing the links between academic progress, behaviour, wellbeing and mental health and SLCN may help secondary schools to focus on supporting pupil's SLCN. The website Bercow 10 years on has some materials which may help.

What's the most effective way of supporting pupils with SLCN needs to learn subject-specific vocabulary, particularly in secondary?

Specific teaching of key vocabulary is really helpful for pupils with SLCN, there are a number of evidenced interventions available: https://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/whatworks

SLCN Projects

In the Sandwell project, how did you decide from the WellComm scores which children to put into the Talk Boost groups?

WellComm and Early Talk Boost form part of Sandwell's language pathway, children at red and amber on WellComm take part in ETB groups. Please click here for further information.

In the alst project described, did the Health Visitors use WellComm?

Health Visitors in Knowsley are looking at WellComm to support their identification of young children who need support. In Sandwell it is the nurseries who use the tool.

In the Sandwell project, did you find a difference in how the red versus amber children responded to Talkboost. I thought Talkboost was more appropriate for the amber children?

Red children made progress although they started and finished at a lower point and some went on to require more specialist intervention. Please click here for further information.


My pupils are 97% EAL so how would I identify the initial SLCN need when they do not speak English?

You need to talk to their parents about how well their home language is progressing. Children who speak other languages are just as likely as English speaking children to have a SLCN, however, EAL in itself is not an SLCN. Children with typical language development in their home language will need some time being exposed to English to learn the new language. Young children should pick up social language skills very quickly although academic language takes longer. Children who make slow progress or where parents report poor home language skills will need further assessment to see if they have an underlying difficulty.

Is it correct that children with English as an additional language are at the same risk of speech, language and communication needs as any other child, however, presumably this can be more difficult to spot?

Yes, the incidence of SLCN is about 10% and Developmental Language Disorder can affect any child regardless of the language they speak.Close liaison with parents, interpreters and your local Speech and Language Therapy service will help identify these children.

Should WellComm interventions be done in a child's first language for a fair assessment in Early Years?

This will depend on a number of factors including the age of the child and how much English they have been exposed to. In principle if they haven’t been exposed to much English and they are young then using the first language would make sense. For a child who has been in an English speaking setting for two years we would advise conducting the test in English.


Do the SLCN figures ever include pupils with ASD because I wonder if the numbers would actually be higher if ASD pupils with SLCN were included? Are these figures available anywhere?

The 10% figure includes all children with SLCN including those with ASD and other conditions. Developmental Language Disorder has a higher incidence in the population (7.6%) than ASD (1%) but is often not identified or misdiagnosed. Please read an article written by the WellComm authors on Developmental Language Disorder.


Are there any specific strategies you would recommend for the transition back to school once the Covid 19 lockdown has finished?

Children and young people with SLCN will need a lot of support on return to school, Many children may not have had much exposure to good language models whilst at home and they may also struggle to understand and conform to the new rules on behaviour such as hand hygiene and social distancing. 

We are providing access to our training in online formats to enable staff to prepare for the work which will need to be done to close the 'word gap' when children return to school. We are also advising on how to deliver our Talk Boost suite of interventions in a way which conforms to school risk assessments.

WellComm can be administered remotely and GL Assessment has produced guidance on the best way to do this. For further information, please email interest@gl-assessment.co.uk