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Speech and Language in the Classroom

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Friday, 12 May 2017

Tips for SENCOs - Part 3: Admin

Approximate reading time: Under 2 minutes.

1. Basic requirements – lockable filing cabinet, coloured folders to hold pupils’ records.
2. Get your year mapped out. Plan ahead, e.g. set dates for important meetings such as annual reviews at the beginning of the year. There may be times when you will have to take support away to use elsewhere, e.g. for public exams.
3. Try to find time to support some children in school.
4. Have an open office when the children can come and talk to you whenever they need to.
5. Write a half-termly newsletter for the teachers in the school keeping them up to date with what you are doing.
6. Give each teacher a ring binder to store the information you give them.
7. Send the SEN list to all teachers via e-mail and save it on the school system - no-one has an excuse then for not reading it.
8. Circulate pupil profiles or IEPs (whatever you write) in hard copy - as well as by e-mail.
9. Write regular information sheets for staff on various aspects of SEN.
10. Be meticulous about systems, paperwork and records – it will pay dividends in the long run.
11. Be organised - lists, lists, lists.
12. Remember that a special need arises when there is a mismatch between what the curriculum demands of the child and what the child brings to the curriculum; the first response should be ‘How can we change the curriculum so that it better fits the child and their learning needs?’ rather than the other way round.
13. Don’t conceptualise support only in terms of TA/LSA support: work to create learning opportunities that aim to develop and improve children’s core skills, especially literacy. Individual targets for children with special needs should be individual to them, not curriculum targets.
14. Budget to keep your area open and staffed from 8am until an hour after school has finished by using LSAs. Often problems are sorted there before they are real problems. Include lunchtime as well.
15. Encourage mixed year group working in your area.
16. When parents/carers are going through a rough time, ask 'and how are you?' Kids who need support need parents/carers who can support them. Helping a parent/carer through a difficult time helps the child as well.

Missed Part 1 & 2? Read them here: 

Tips for SENCOs - Part 1: General

Tips for SENCOs - Part 2: Management of TAs

Contributed by Janice Rolnick MA RSAdip

Educational Consultant


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Friday, 5 May 2017

Tips for SENCOs - Part 2: Management of TAs

Approximate reading time: 1 minute, 30 secs.

1. Get your TAs on your side – make them feel they are part of a team. Make managing the TAs a top priority. If they are behind you they will be supporting the pupils effectively and efficiently, if they're not you'll be spending all your time dealing with the fall-out.
2. Fight their corner if necessary.
3. Be clear about your expectations of TA conduct and behaviour/dress code, etc.
4. Listen to your TAs, but let them know you have the ultimate say.
5. Make sure they have a timetable, and that they stick to it.
6. Give them training opportunities, in-house and out when relevant.
7. Treat them fairly, but not all the same!
8. Nip bickering in the bud, don't allow grudges to fester.
9. If you lose some along the way because they can't accept that you are in charge - so be it!
10. Treat them with respect at all times - even when it hurts.
11. Develop your LSAs. Allow them to choose an area to develop – literacy – Aspergers – whatever the need in school and for their own interest. They read the books, go on courses, then share information with others. They become the expert.
12. Send them on courses which allow them to gain qualifications so they have a career ladder and something to aim for.
13. Make sure they have performance management.
14. Produce a TA handbook.

Missed Part 1? Read it here: Tips for SENCOs - Part 1: General

Coming soon: Tips for SENCOs - Part 3: Admin

Contributed by Janice Rolnick MA RSAdip

Educational Consultant

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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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