New upskilling programme aims to reduce the early language gap between under-served children and their peers

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In 2020, St John’s launched the Foundation Fund, with the overarching ambition of levelling the educational playing field to ensure all children across our region meet age-related standards.

For this vision to become a reality, our work is focused on three main areas: access to nutritious food and safe spaces, emotional and behavioural support, and support with literacy, oracy and numeracy.

Early Years

Evidence has shown us the importance of speech and language development in young children; it is fundamental in supporting children to learn while providing them with the communication skills they require to manage their emotions and behaviours.  Under-served children can present with reduced speech and language skills compared to their peers, leading to an early language gap. If a child requires additional help with their development, then it is vital it is identified at the earliest point and the appropriate support measures are put in place.

This is why, as part of the work of the Foundation Fund, we partnered with Bath and North East Somerset Council and HCRG Care Group to create the Language for Life programme.

Language for Life

Since its launch, the Language for Life project has engaged with 23 early years settings across BaNES, working with children from birth to five years old. The programme specifically focuses on training ‘early years’ practitioners to use the WellComm assessment toolkit to screen oracy and communication in children against age-related standards.

Starting in the 2021/22 academic year, the Programme has already screened and identified 285 children (36% of those screened) who require and will be receiving language and communication support. Children will be re-screened periodically to check their progress, and where specialist support is required, a referral is made.

Why does this matter?

The early support children receive through Language for Life is vital as it identifies any issues and addresses them immediately, reducing the risk of children falling behind when they start school. Those receiving support through Language for Life will be able to start school with language and communication skills in line with their peers. If a child still requires support at the point of joining Reception, their teachers are made aware as part of their handover with their pre-school setting, and measures are put in place.

Early year settings

The settings within the programme have fed back that the Language for Life project has helped their early Years Practitioners to grow their confidence when implementing early interventions for children with speech and language needs, and it has improved their awareness of the pathways of support that are available to them. “The Language for Life project has had a really positive impact – there are far fewer children starting school with language skills that are below age expectations… we are more aware, (and) can get early intervention in situ” (School based nursery setting).

The Language for Life project is coming to the end of its second pilot year. The feedback from practitioners, families and children has shown an overwhelmingly positive impact. Data suggests the outcomes from the second year will be far more positive than the first year. “Our results are fantastic and the majority of our children in Early Years are screening green. This has been a wonderful opportunity and enriched the learning experiences of our children.” (School based nursery setting)

It’s exciting to witness the difference the project is making to these children and see the opportunities it offers to them. Find out more about the impact of the early years work, in our 2021-22 academic year impact report.