Talk Boost VB Blog

I CAN’s CEO Virginia Beardshaw visits Milwards Primary School in Harlow, Essex, to see Talk Boost in action.

Seeing Talk Boost in action at Harlow’s Milwards School put a real spring in my step. A truly talented Teaching Assistant encouraging Year 1 children to ‘build sentences’ was really worth watching.

I was at Milwards with Carey Bennet, Achievement for All’s National Delivery Director, to show a colleague from the Department of Education how I CAN and Achievement for All are working together to narrow the achievement gap for vulnerable pupils, a topic spot on for his work on the Pupil Premium, which schools who receive it can choose to spend on programmes like Talk Boost and Achievement for All’s schools programme.

Harlow’s heritage as a ‘New Town’ of the 1960s and 70s means that there is a lot of underlying deprivation. Research consistently shows that in areas of social deprivation upwards of 50 per cent of children start school on the back foot, with language skills well below what is expected for their age.

All too well aware that poor language skills are a real issue in Harlow, and encouraged by her school’s Achievement Coach, Head Teacher Angela Downie was keen to give I CAN’s Talk Boost a try. It has worked in giving children the help that they have needed, and after nearly two years the programme is firmly embedded at Milwards .

During our visit we met four children selected from within their Year 1 class as needing help with language. Encouraged by the Teaching Assistant they took turns doing a version of ‘twenty questions’ identifying an object hidden in a magic sack.

The hardest was a bottle of water. Through deft questioning and clear descriptions, the children got the right answer for that well before I did.  There was a round of ‘I went to the zoo and saw a ….’, with each child adding on the name of an animal to build vocabulary and recall.

The children were bright and eager, the Teaching Assistant warm and encouraging. The Talk Boost session lasted a brisk 30 minutes, with all concerned staying focussed on a range of activities that they clearly enjoyed.

The session we saw was part of a series that takes place three times a week for ten weeks. Talking with their class teacher afterwards confirmed that the small group Talk Boost activities were backed up by teacher-led whole class work from which all the children, not just the Talk Boost group, benefitted. Children selected for the intervention can make as much as 18 months’ progress in just ten weeks.

Talk Boost develops all five elements of communication: attention and listening, vocabulary, telling stories and conversations are covered, as well as the work on building sentences that we saw. Work on language builds confidence, to make a firm foundation for literacy and numeracy as school life progresses.

Concerned that not all of their children get the interaction and stimulating conversations that they need to develop good language at home, Milwards staff use the Talk Boost work book that goes from home to school and back, keeping parents up to speed with what their children are doing as part of the programme, and giving them ideas and activities to do at home. As with the class and small group-based activities, fun is the key.

Altogether a great day out. It was heartening to see children and staff absorbed in fun and engaging language development work that does so much to help children catch up with their peers.