Early years language training boosts children's skills

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An early years speech, language and communication training programme has been shown to speed up children’s development by five months, an independent evaluation has found.

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Oaks Pre-School in Bracknell Forest, which took part in the training

Talking Matters was developed by speech and language training company Elklan and run in 128 early years settings in six local authority areas in England between 2015-16. The evaluation was carried out by the University of Sheffield in 13 settings in the Isle of Wight, Windsor and Maidenhead, Lancashire, and Barnet.

Children who received Talking Matters support between the ages of 16 and 35 months progressed by an average of seven months in their language development, while children in the control group progressed by just two months, the evaluation found. Improvements were recorded in both the children’s receptive language, or ability to understand, and their expressive language, or ability to use and combine words.

Funded by the Department for Education, Talking Matters training and development was accessed by a total of 101 practitioners either face-to-face or through e-learning. These practitioners then cascaded the training to a further 1,329 members of staff. The training programme reached 8,964 children.

The training aimed to introduce practitioners to new approaches for dealing with speech, language and communication needs in order to improve their confidence as well as outcomes for children. The results showed improvements in all areas. The findings show that:

  • 40 per cent of practitioners reported using modelling as a strategy which they had not used before;
  • 37 per cent were introduced to the idea of waiting for the child to talk;
  • 30 per cent on focusing on verbs or action words;
  • and 27 per cent on using short words and sentences.

The University of Sheffield evaluation asked practitioners to rate their confidence in supporting different areas of speech, language and communication on a scale of one to five before and after completing Talking Matters.

Dr Judy Clegg, senior lecturer at the University of Sheffield, said, ‘Training pre-school practitioners to facilitate young children's language development is a crucial component of early years provision. The study showed that Talking Matters does have a positive impact on young children's language development.’

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PHOTO: Elklan

Elklan was set up in 1999 by speech and language therapists Liz Elks and Henrietta McLachlan to provide training for education staff to help them support children with speech, language and communication needs more effectively.        

Ms McLachlan said, ‘We were delighted to see that Talking Matters has had a significant and positive impact on the children involved, as well as the practitioners. We know that many early years settings do not feel they have the training and knowledge to support young children at this crucial “golden period” of development.

‘There is a big demand for training to be delivered by speech and language therapists to empower staff to be more effective in their support of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). This evaluation highlights the real difference high quality, accredited training for early years staff makes on children’s language development.’

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