Are You Ready

Communication skills central to school readiness: Blog from Clive Robson, I CAN’s senior Education Adviser and additional Ofsted inspector

‘Too many children start school without the range of skills they need.’ (Are you ready? Good practice in school readiness. Ofsted 2014)

The aim of this recent survey by Ofsted was to capture how the most successful Early Years providers ensure disadvantaged and vulnerable children are better prepared to start school. The providers were selected because they were successful in achieving good outcomes for children in deprived areas. We know that in areas of social deprivation, upwards of 50% of children are starting school without the language skills they need to be ‘school ready’.

There was a common view from the providers about which were the key areas of delayed development:  “children’s social and emotional development, physical development and communication.” Inspectors noted that many children are arriving in their reception class speaking only 30 to 40 words.

Here at I CAN we were pleased to see a report make such a clear reference to the importance of those early communication skills – and how they have to be carefully developed.  Our programmes such as Talk Boost and Early Talk give schools and early years settings structured ways of achieving this.

The report noted good practice in developing communication skills in these successful settings, for example:  ‘when every member of staff displayed clear skills and understanding of the importance of promoting opportunities for children to speak in sentences and initiate questions, and of engaging in children’s imaginative role-play scenarios.’

And interestingly, the most effective interventions were delivered by well-trained and qualified staff : ‘and in many settings was led and managed by speech and language therapists, enabling children to acquire new skills rapidly and gaps to be closed.’

One of the key ingredients of success of Talk Boost, a ten week language intervention that can ‘boost’ a child’s communication by 9 to 18 months, is that it is overseen by the teacher and delivered by teaching assistants who have both been trained and have clear and specific roles. Ofsted found this to be vital to providing effective support: ‘We found the most effective schools provided teaching assistants with clear and specific roles, and trained them to deliver specific intervention programmes or high-quality activities, including developing language through the quality of their interactions or through recognised programmes; supporting problem-solving in mathematics; and developing children’s social and emotional skills.’

Interestingly, there is no national definition of what school readiness means. A primary school head teacher gave their definition and communication skills are central to it.

‘By four we would expect children to be ready to be separated from their parent or carer, to be able to demonstrate listening skills in being able to show interest and pay attention to a subject or stimulus. To have enough language to be able to express themselves if they need something and be able to communicate something about what makes them who they are, such as name, age and something about family or relevant factors in their life. To be able to interact with an adult and/or a peer. For example, during play to be able to take turns and take some responsibility for their actions. We think that children should be able to focus on, and show interest in, their work and the world around them. To make observations, notice things and ask questions. To be able to hold a book, understand some aspects of narrative and respond to some boundary setting.’

This accessible and readable report has several key messages- the one most striking to me is the centrality of developing communication skills to ensure pupils are ready to learn with confidence. Supporting children’s language development with interventions such as Talk Boost is an effective and proven way of ensuring that children who are not ‘school ready’ when they start, soon will be.

Help children get ready for school with I CAN resources available here.