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Speech and Language in the Classroom

The Blog

Friday, 21 April 2017

Tips for SENCOs - Part 1: General

Approximate reading time: 3 mins, 30 secs.

1. You are not expected to know everything but you need to know where to go to find out!
2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
3. Time spent networking is never wasted. It might look like a chat to others, but it really pays to be on speaking terms with all school staff, advisors, those who work at County Hall, governors, parents, etc, etc. You also make good friends along the way.
4. Make a point of attending cluster meetings and training. It is vital to network. This is where you will pick up some of your best ideas.
5. Form good relationships with outside agencies – if you do they will help you when they you need them.
6. Visit other schools and find out what other SENCOs do.
7. Do NASEN training for SENCOs.
8. Be realistic about what you can do. Set realistic targets – you don’t have to do it all at once.
9. Don't do the job if you are the kind of person who needs a lot of thanks and praise -you don't often get it as a SENCO. Treasure the thanks you do get from the parents who recognise your efforts. You have to understand that for some parents (especially in primary) you are the bearer of the news they don't want to hear. Some parents may not even want to be seen talking to you - it is an acknowledgement in front of other parents that their child has problems. Fathers of boys with difficulties can be particularly tricky - anger/grief/guilt can make them very hard to engage with. Sometimes the more severe the problem, the easier the parents are to work with, as they have come to some terms with their child's problems before school.
10. Be assertive – if you need information from colleagues they must stick to deadlines.
11. Have a notebook, date each other page and write down both your to-do lists and every single thing you do and your reflections upon what you did and how you will/would do it differently next time.
12. Don't pretend you have all the answers or a magic wand.
13. Don't underestimate your own value in the school - it is easy to be sidelined especially in an 'academic' and high achieving school. Your role is important. Some of the teachers who do very well with the very able wouldn't have a clue how to teach the much less able.
14. Do it for the children - or don't do it at all. It may well be a stepping stone in your career, but if you really don't enjoy it and find it more rewarding than any other job, don't do it!
15. Learn how the SEN finances work and fight your corner.
16. Appoint and surround yourself with people with ‘the right stuff’!
17. Never throw anything out, thinking you won’t need it – you will! You may get enquiries about provision made at school years after students have left.
18. Save everything you make for students. File it away on your computer. You can re-jig an awful lot of ideas over and over again.
19. Collect policy documents – training materials, etc. that those generous people on the SENCO forum offer. Writing your own “cold” takes a great deal of time. It is easier to see what other people have done and then decide what you want for your own school – and a great deal quicker too.
20. Get comfortable chairs – buy tissues in bulk.
21. Share the problems. Some staff may be as difficult as students. Everyone gets to work with them at some time. Find what works best.
22. Join the SENCO forum, one of the best resources you will ever find.
23. Always be honest. Tell parents you can't do something if you can't do it. Tell TAs their jobs depend on funding if that's the case.
24. Shout out when you are overloaded. Ask 'What do you want me to stop doing?' if asked to take on too much.
25. Model good practice. Tell others when they do well. Everyone needs praise!
26. Carry out regular in-house training of staff. Try to put them in the position of the child with learning difficulties. Remind them that all teachers are teachers of children with learning difficulties and that the children in their class are ultimately their responsibility!

Coming soon: Tips for SENCOs - Part 2: Management of TAs

Contributed by Janice Rolnick MA RSAdip

Educational Consultant

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Friday, 10 March 2017

An interview with... Anna Branagan and Stephen Parsons, Speech and Language Therapists

The Link Interview Logo
Approximate reading time: Under a minute. 

Firstly, I don't think we've ever been asked these questions before!

1) Your publications, Word Aware, Word Aware 2 and Language for Thinking have undoubtedly inspired thousands of teachers, but what was the turning point of inspiration to begin training and producing these resources?
Our motivation was because, as SaLTs, we wanted to have better resources. With LFT (Language for Thinking) we thought as long as we produced something that we would use in our everyday practice, we would be happy with that. That others like it too is a bonus. Word Aware was really seeing the vast number of children with vocabulary difficulties, that quite often teachers were aware of their students' needs, but that there was no approach to address the need.

2) What would your top tip be for teachers supporting parents in developing children’s language and communication skills from home?
Keep trying, be creative. Invite them in to make things with their child. Search 'nethermains' on Twitter and see how one Scottish school engages parents via social media.

3) Save The Children’s ‘Read On. Get On’ Campaign, launched in 2014, highlighted prevalent key points about early language development, with heavy emphasis on reading to improve vocabulary. Would you agree with this focus? 
Reading is the number one way to an enriched vocabulary, but this assumes that children have adequate language to get started with reading. Many children learn to decode but do not have the language to access what they read. Also, developing strategies so the words that children read just don't stay on the page will develop their vocabulary faster.

Read The Link, Issue 7 here:

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Friday, 24 February 2017

EDU Q&AS: Speech, Language and Communication

Approximate reading time: 3 minutes.

We recently published an article in SENCo Magazine, Issue 2, in case you missed it, you can read our Q&As below:

How can primary teachers ensure that pupils who find it difficult to speak or understand verbal instructions don’t get left out in class? Derry Patterson, SaLT offers some advice… 

As a primary teacher, once I know I’ll be teaching pupils with speech, language and communication needs in the coming year, what can I do to prepare?

The most valuable support that you can give children with SLCN is to ensure the language you use for teaching is accessible to everyone in the classroom. Slowing down your pace of delivery and allowing extra thinking time are two strategies that will not only help children with SLCN, but also many others in your class.
Our Language Link package details a range of further strategies you can use, grouped into four broad headings – ‘Break it down’, ‘Explain as you go’, ‘Check as you go’ and ‘Keep it visual’. 
Speech, Language and Communication: SENCo Magazine Article

Which common difficulties and challenges encountered by pupils with SLCN should I be most sensitive to?

If a child has a speech problem or difficulty with their spoken language, you will be able to identify it as soon you meet them. Conversely, the issue that is hardest to detect will be difficulty in understanding language. Children with verbal comprehension difficulties might outwardly appear to understand you – they will often soon learn the daily classroom routine by watching and copying their peers, and readily respond to any non-verbal cues when available. These children will tend to be very good at ‘making themselves invisible’ and can easily slip under the radar.
It is therefore important to be sensitive to any signs that a child might be struggling to understand the language of the classroom. Language Link features a whole class language screening tool for children in Reception, enabling teachers to quickly identify whether any children have difficulty understanding, and a provides comprehensive range of ways to support said children during class, group and individual work activities.

How can I accurately determine and assess my pupils’ understanding of spoken language?

It can be hard to know for sure whether a child understands a command, since we often use visual supports such as pointing or other visual cues – putting on one’s coat while saying ‘It’s time to go outside’, for example.
Because these cues will provide heavy hints for children who don’t understand the words used, it’s vital that a formal assessment be performed to accurately measure a child’s real understanding of spoken language. The Language Link standardised assessment is designed for precisely this purpose, being easy to administer and taking only 20 minutes to complete. It will then provide intervention recommendations for children identified as having mild or moderate difficulties, and highlight whether in-school assistance or speech and language therapy may be needed for children with more severe difficulties.

Where can parents and teachers turn to in cases where pupils have both SLCN and some other form of SEN?

We work closely with local speech and language therapy teams and SEND advisory teams, and there are a number of charities – including the Communication Trust and Afasic – that provide SLCN advice and support for parents and professionals. For SENCos, the DfE SENCo Forum is an invaluable tool for obtaining advice and developing your professional network beyond your local offering – details of how to join can be found at
You can also can find advice articles for teachers and parents written by speech and language specialists in our in-house magazine, The Link, which can be read via the Speech Link website.

What can schools and teachers do to effectively engage with parents of pupils with SLCN?

We fully recognise the importance of engaging with parents, which is why our packages provide SENCos with parent friendly advice sheets and worksheets that can be used to support the work being done at school in a fun way at home.

What is widely recognised as good practice when it comes to supporting pupils with SLCN?

In short, ‘ASSESS’, ‘PLAN’, ‘DO’ and ‘REVIEW’. A Language Link assessment can help generate evidence that children’s understanding of language has been fully investigated at school entry. The resulting reports will provide a clear picture of the language needs of all children in the class, while our online reporting system will ensure that intervention outcomes are objectively recorded and that progress is being monitored and evaluated.
Speech, Language and Communication: SENCo Magazine Article

The online version of SENCo Magazine can be found here:

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Friday, 3 February 2017

5 Tips for Online Security in Schools

Security Memory Stick
Approximate reading time: Under 2 minutes.

For our many school subscribers, January-February is that time each year when we automatically update their passwords to our secure website. As an organisation, we regularly review our online information security and data protection measures, just as each school does. We thought we would offer 5 tips for all schools subscribing to online software or with an online presence.

Ensure that your policies are up to date and that you have written permission for what you are displaying and why. You should not need more than is necessary. School staff are experienced when requesting permission for photographs but @SpeechLink now follows an increasing number of schools posting on social media (Facebook and Twitter). Has the permission form been updated for social media? And are parents fully aware of what this means?

However tricky it is to memorise the 20 passwords a day that you need before you’ve even had your morning coffee, it is important to keep them secure, especially when handling confidential pupil information. Nominate one person to change all passwords whenever a staff member leaves the team. Often, the only time a school’s Language Link password is changed is when we automatically change it annually. Don’t write passwords on a post-it note to stick to the computer. Avoid the ease of autosaving the password. We have known school staff to write their password on the whiteboard, allowing pupils to access the website for that day’s activity. Those pupils are digital natives and more able with ICT than we will ever be. And they have the time and interest to investigate further...

Clear management of policies, data and records, and the procedures surrounding them, are crucial to ensure that you have secure and justified information storage. Having one member of staff with this responsibility helps to minimise the risk of poor referencing as well as decreasing the risk of ‘misplaced’ information. When data is being used away from the school premises, encrypting the files is the safest protection. Here at Speech Link Multimedia Ltd, we use pin-protected memory sticks.

Ensure that any personal information is disposed of properly and without retrieval. There are professional organisations that wipe hard drives and similar electrical stores of information (which is probably safer than waving a hammer outside to smash up your hard drives followed by a blow torch; although that is an extreme solution!).

5. HELPFUL WEB LINKS: For Staff and Pupils
The Education Network’s e-safety section provides great tips for school internet safety:

For child safety, charming little book of advice for kids’ safety online provides a great way of sharing the dangers of the online environment in a light-hearted way:

CBBC also provides friendly advice to recommend to your pupils and children:

For further information, and to join in with Safer Internet Day 2017 07/02/17:

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Friday, 16 December 2016

An interview with... Alison Wintgens, Speech and Language Therapist Specialising in Selective Mutism

Approximate reading time: Under 3 minutes.

1) As one of the few specialists in the field of Selective Mutism, what was the driving force leading to choosing this as your focus?

As a speech and language therapist on a child and adolescent mental health team since 1990, my job was to work with young people who had both emotional/behavioural problems and difficulties with communication. Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder resulting in an intense and irrational fear of talking. It affects someone’s ability to communicate fully in many situations and can profoundly affect their lives, so it absolutely fitted the remit of my job and was bound to be something I needed to address.

I was struck however by the lack of information available on how best to assess and treat children and young people with SM; and also by the devastating effects if it is not recognised and well managed. It was then exciting and a great relief to meet Maggie at a conference where we were both presenting on SM; and to persuade her that we should write down our understanding and experience of working with SM and what exactly we were doing.

2) What has been the most motivating experience you’ve had with Selective Mutism, which has maintained your interest?

I haven’t had one particular motivating experience; my interest has been maintained over more than twenty-five years by sharing and developing my knowledge. Sadly many people still have not come across or even heard of SM. It is a great relief for children, young people and their parents who have come for help to hear that it is a recognised condition; they are not the only ones who have it; there are ways to get over it; and this is what will help. And it is wonderful to see the progress they can make when people in their educational setting understand SM, the pressure to talk is taken off and helpful strategies are put in place.

3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools, who may be supporting a child with Selective Mutism, or may suspect a child has Selective Mutism?

This can’t be answered simply in one top tip, but here are a few ideas!
-          Listen to what the parents are telling you, and if it seems the child can talk comfortably in some settings but not in others, find out more about SM.
-          Take off any pressure on the child to talk.
-          Support and encourage the child and find non-verbal ways that s/he can join in.
-          And read Maggie’s Link Magazine article ‘Shyness or Selective Mutism?’ for more tips!

4) With increased time spent on computers and phones from a young age, do you feel that this environment can hinder or help with the treatment for Selective Mutism?

This is a really interesting question. On the whole I think computers and phones are very helpful in the treatment of SM. Those with SM can benefit in many ways. When direct speech to some is not yet possible, they may feel less isolated by messaging and using Facebook. They and their families can get information about SM; watch encouraging YouTube videos; and post questions or comments to others in the same situation. And the phone can be used in a gradual controlled way to desensitise themselves from the fear of speaking.

Read more on Selective Mutism in Maggie Johnson's article 'Shyness or Selective Mustism?' in the Link Magazine, Issue 6...

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Friday, 2 December 2016

An interview with... Ruth Merritt, Speech and Language Therapist Specialising in Deafness

Approximate reading time: 3 mins, 30 secs.

1) You specialise in a range of communication difficulties, but what lead to your fascination specifically within the field of deafness?

In speech and language therapy you often have the opportunity to specialise in an area of work, since the breadth of scope of our work as therapists is so diverse it is difficult to hone our skills in all of the areas. I actually met an inspirational therapist when I was at university who sparked my interest in working with deaf people. I started work as soon as I could in a school for deaf children and loved it. I adore using sign language and I find deaf people’s views on people and life fascinating, as they are so much more visually attuned than hearing people.

2) What has been the most motivating experience throughout your career as a Speech and Language Therapist working with deaf people?

I think I love all of my work with deaf people, but possibly the highlight has to be seeing the faces of young children around 1 or 2 years old when they first have their cochlear implants switched on (one, or more commonly two devices which provide some hearing to individuals who have a severe to profound hearing loss; comprising of an internal part (which is surgically implanted) and external parts. The cochlear implant changes sound into electrical stimulation and this stimulates the nerve which then passes to the brain). Children’s reactions can be so varied but often their eyes light up as they look back and forth at their parents in the wonder of hearing something!

3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools, who may have a pupil with suspected hearing difficulties?

Something that is very important to understand is that hearing loss can be so variable. Some children may suffer from a fluctuating hearing loss resulting from fluid in their middle ears. This is very common and can be treated. These children can often be disruptive, inattentive and even a bit naughty in the classroom. Their speech and language may be slow to develop. Children with greater and more permanent levels of hearing loss may have developed compensatory tactics to cope with their lack of hearing. They are often more visual than hearing children and appear to “hear”, as they carefully watch what others are doing and copy them. Children who don’t say the “s” sound at all may well have a hearing loss and should be tested immediately. In fact if teaching staff ever suspect that a child has a hearing loss at all, they should note down their evidence for this and contact the parents to make an appointment with the GP.

4) From your experience with cochlear implants, what would your advice be for a teacher working with a pupil adapting to their cochlear implant?

This depends so much on factors like when the child had their implants and how much language they had before their cochlear implants were switched on. If they had some hearing before and have lost it or their hearing had deteriorated, they will need to relearn some of what they already knew. Revisiting words, songs and stories they knew before can be a powerful way to retrain their brain to decipher the electrical signal to make it meaningful.

One of the main aims in the early days is that they wear their speech processors (the external parts of the cochlear implants) at all times.  Sounds need to be introduced in a meaningful and tuneful way so that the children can learn to discriminate between different sounds. That is the hardest aspect of adjusting to cochlear implants as they are not like the popular myth- a “bionic ear” but actually require lots of input and support for them to learn to discriminate meaningfully between the sounds, and from this develop their speech and language skills.

Read more from Ruth in her article 'Glue Ear' in the Link Magazine, Issue 6...

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Friday, 18 November 2016

An interview with... Claire Vuckovic, Independent SEND and Inclusion Consultant, IncludED

Approximate reading time: 3 mins, 30 secs. 

1) With the recent petition for initial teacher training to include Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN), what advice would you give to a Newly Qualified Teacher (NQT) who has not had such initial training?

I learnt most about SLCN from talking to visiting speech therapists.  Listening to them talking about a child’s development and the difficulties the child was having, alongside the resources and strategies they were recommending helped me start to piece together how speech and language should be developing, where it can go wrong and what impact that can have on a child’s learning. Nowadays, there is some fantastic training available.

My main tip (and it’s a bit of a catch all!) is “be aware of your communication”, make sure you have the children’s attention, use clear simple language, use your expression and natural gesture and leave plenty of time for children to process what you have said. The more you use your “teacher voice” the more natural it will become, don’t underestimate how much these will support all the children in your class – not just those with SLCN.

2) What has been a key factor motivating your personal focus on Inclusion and Special Educational Needs (SEN)?

This has been an interesting question to try to answer! Thinking about it I have realised that it probably goes back to when I was learning to read myself – we had a reading scheme called “Wide Range Readers”. They were books of short stories and poems, some fiction and some non-fiction.  I was fascinated by the stories of Helen Keller and Louis Braille. My Dad had an elderly neighbour who used to communicate in rapid finger spelling and he taught me the alphabet when I was quite young (I never achieved the speed that my Dad and his neighbour could use, but I have got quite good at Makaton now).

I think I am also quite creative and a bit of a problem solver and I really like puzzling out ways to present or support learning in different ways for different children. Of course it helps that I have been doing this for so many years now and have had the benefit of so many knowledgeable people (not just professionals – families, volunteers and children themselves) but even after all these years I have yet to meet the same child twice, the only piece of advice that works for all children (even with similar needs) is – if it isn’t working, try it a different way!

3) What is your top tip for TAs, Teachers, or SENCOs in mainstream schools in order to maintain pupil centred planning with a variety of SEN pupils?

Oh good – easy one! Get to know the child – not their “condition”.
Talk to them about their lives outside school – what do they like to do, what makes a good day for them? Try to talk outside the classroom, maybe over lunch or on playground duty. Talk to families as well, what do they like to do as a family, what helps them get things done, or not. Listen.

I use the Helen Sanderson Associates website for information and resources and also to remind me how powerful Person Centred Planning is. 

4) If you were an NQT faced with preparing for your first OFSTED inspection, how would you maintain an inclusive environment and ensure that you ‘ticked all of the boxes’ for effective practice?

Sorry – if OFSTED are coming it’s too late. Inclusion is not something you do – it’s something you are.

On a more positive note – you can try to use some of your release time to discretely observe your class at work or play in your environment. Are they using all the resources available to them and maximising their independence? If you have a child with SEND are they accessing all the same activities as their peers and if not can you identify the barriers?

5) As an experienced independent SEND and Inclusion Consultant, do you feel that SEN provision and inclusion is improving, or are there still areas which require particular development?

From when I started out as a teacher – yes. However, I feel that while practice and understanding is improving, tensions within the education system are huge and increasing; measures of school accountability, changes in curricula, and performance related pay for staff alongside an increasingly stretched budget all make meeting the needs of children with SEND a very difficult issue for schools to prioritise.

Undergraduate SEND specialism teacher training degrees, such as ours at the University of Cumbria are unusual. It was disappointing to find that many recently qualified teachers still lack confidence in their skills and knowledge around SEND, that situation does not appear to have changed much over the years. Cut backs in many Local Authority Advisory Services to schools and Early Years Providers is also a concern and I wonder who is going to enable and support our teaching workforce to meet the needs of all children, as the Code of Practice requires.

HOWEVER! I think we could all support children with SEND by improving our understanding of communication and making some small changes to the way we deliver our teaching.  Some of the most effective strategies (as I mentioned above) are straightforward, free and when they are used consistently for a while become second nature.  So I think a drive to improve SLCN training is very encouraging.

Read more advice from Claire in her article 'New Term, New Teacher' in The Link Magazine, Issue 6...

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