Derwent Stepping Stones has always had communication and language at the heart of our early years' delivery. We believe strongly that this is the cornerstone for children to build all areas of development and in 2017 we developed a communication and language strategy after it became apparent that 59% of our children were showing delay in this area.
We worked with a range of agencies to access the support needed to implement our strategy which included staff training, changes to nursery environments, collecting data, support with children’s next steps. In 2018 we successfully delivered a programme funded through the National Lottery Community Fund that enabled us to buy a specialist speech and language identification tool, work more closely with parents and complete some staff training. This project supported over 30 children aged 2-3 years and during the course of 9 months we saw such incredible improvements that we knew were making the right changes. Ten of the children were referred for specialist support and, of the other 20, 65% caught up with 100% making significant progress.
In 2019 Derby City Council ran a programme called Talk Derby which we engaged with from the outset. The programme offered a range of training for staff, access to audit tools, conferences presenting research and guest speakers. We used the opportunity to train 10 front line staff to level 3 in supporting children’s communication and language, and all frontline staff to level 1. We changed our everyday delivery, taking note of the sequence in which children develop in this area and provided resources for parents to use at home.
One of the audit tools we used shows in which areas settings are doing well and which areas could be improved. We were delighted that the tool showed we were doing very well in most areas but still gave us things to work on.
Further opportunities have now opened up to us through an early years professional development programme, including staff training and the option for accreditation as a Communication Friendly Setting. Formal recognition for the work we undertake will be a real achievement and offer a boost to all of our staff who are incredibly passionate about giving our young children the best start in life.
We are now in a strong position to evidence the difference we are making for young children’s communication and language. We are more successful in accessing specialist support when needed and generally much more confident in our approach.
LT was 27 months at the start of the project and her first assessment showed she was 18 months delayed. We engaged the parents, who worked on next steps at home from the Big Book of Ideas, and we gave LT additional sessions at nursery to improve attendance. She was also involved in the Santa dummy drop, successfully giving up her dummy. At her last assessment in March 2019, LT was 32 months and was assessed as being in the appropriate level for her age. In other words, she had successfully caught up 18 months delay in just 5 months.
Rachel Cowlam, Speech & Language Therapist at Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust, with whom we work, has remarked that this new approach has meant we ‘have been able to highlight children at the earliest possible opportunity’. She confirmed that the approach ‘is having a positive impact on the children that you are supporting’.