This January, Simon’s House Nursery and Pre-school in Oldham was rated outstanding. Under previous ownership, it had been judged Inadequate and closed. ‘One of the key factors in achieving the Outstanding rating,’ says new owner and manager Vikki Burke, was the ‘speech and language interventions we carried out’. These had a big impact, she says, and were partially paid for by the EYPP.
Ms Burke introduced the Making it REAL programme to Simon’s House and nearby Mather Street Pre-school, which she also manages. The programme is a national government-funded project delivered by the Early Childhood Unit at the National Children’s Bureau. The approach and evidence base were originally developed by Professors Cathy Nutbrown and Peter Hannon at the University of Sheffield. Through a series of home visits and activities in the setting, the programme aims to engage families in their children’s speech and language development.
Parents are supported to recognise and value the small steps children make as they learn to talk, play and let children join in everyday activities and to model themselves as someone who reads and writes.
‘Parental engagement is key,’ says Ms Burke. ‘We linked our work to all the exciting things that were happening around Christmas time – we ran a Christmas craft afternoon, for example, as a way to bring parents into the setting and model the kind of language they could use when playing with their children. We delivered Christmas cards to parents that the children had written, which provided an excuse for a home visit with a book.’ In its inspection report, Ofsted particularly focused on this aspect of the provider’s work, saying: ‘Children are supported exceptionally well in developing their communication and language skills.’
Although Making it REAL is government-funded, Ms Burke used EYPP funding towards the salary of an early years teacher who works across both settings and is charged with overseeing the delivery of the programme. ‘We have also linked the communication work to raising awareness of health issues,’ she says. ‘Tooth decay is a massive issue in Oldham and we promoted to parents the fact that dummies can cause tooth problems as well as impacting on a child’s speech.’
The Government picked out speech and language activities and expertise as an example of how the EYPP could be spent when it launched the funding in October 2014, and this has been ‘the first consideration of many settings’, according to Michael Freeston, director of quality improvement at the Pre-school Learning Alliance. Research shows that disadvantaged children lag behind their more advantaged peers in this area – statistics published by the Department for Education reveal that nearly a quarter of children on free school meals are below expectations in communication and language by the end of the early years.
Muddy Puddles Pre-School in Maidstone, Kent, initially wanted to use the EYPP to employ a speech therapist. Finding someone who could work the hours the setting required proved difficult, so instead the team spent EYPP funding on employing an additional member of staff who could cover for the manager. This allowed the manager to attend an Every Child A Talker (ECAT) workshop delivered by an adviser in the local authority’s Early Years Equality and Inclusion team. ECAT is a national scheme designed to help practitioners create a supportive and stimulating environment where children can enjoy experimenting with, and learning, language. The extra staff member also freed up the manager to use the ECAT Child Monitoring Tool, which provides guidance on typical development, and implement strategies from the workshop, such as the development of a ‘mini me’: cut-outs that allow children to position themselves in small-world play.
‘The setting has noticed children’s friendships developing, and confidence in beginning to communicate with one another and using each other’s names,’ says Kent County Council equality and inclusion manager Sue Smith. ‘During an equality and inclusion visit, the adviser saw that staff are more confident in speaking to children and that language is less directive. There was a great deal more interaction during play and extension of language than before the workshop.’
CASE STUDY: MARINE PARK PRIMARY SCHOOL NURSERY, SOUTH TYNESIDE
Children attending Marine Park Primary School Nursery are among the most deprived in the country, given the school’s location in the bottom five per cent of the social deprivation index.
‘We have a high percentage of children from a black and minority ethnic background – some 80 per cent of children at the nursery have English as an additional language,’ says head teacher Alison Burden. ‘And even those children who have English as a first language often have very poor speech and language skills when they enter the nursery. ‘
With the majority of children at the setting (86 per cent) eligible for the Early Years Pupil Premium, Marine Park decided to use the EYPP funding to boost its existing work on speech and language development. Eighteen months ago, the nursery became part of the Making it REAL programme. ‘We were looking at sharing books, talking with your children, using nursery rhymes which might not be part of their normal practice at home,’ says Ms Burden. ‘We were role-modelling how to communicate with children, the language you might use when playing with playdough, for example.’
Although the programme suggests one home visit per child, Marine Park carried out two or three, many involving a translator (a bilingual teaching assistant) as well as the nursery teacher, which upped the cost of the work. Every child at the nursery took part in the programme, not just those who are EYPP-eligible. ‘We were initially funded by Making it REAL, but we thought the work was so important we carried on funding it through the EYPP,’ says Ms Burden. In addition to staff cover, some of the money was spent on resource packs including books, puppets and playdough recipes. All parents and children were also signed up to the local library.
The nursery also spent EYPP funding on other speech and language work, such as Boosting Language Auditory Skills and Talking (Blast). This is an early years programme of 30 sessions, which requires a resource pack, a CD player and a trained member of staff to run the group. The programme works on underpinning the skills needed for language and communication, such as turn-taking and listening.
‘It has been difficult to measure the impact as it is the first year, but looking at the entry to Reception data, the Reception teacher felt they had a better understanding of language, better listening skills and better parental engagement than previous years, as well as better co-operation skills and more vocabulary,’ says Ms Burden.
The Making it REAL programme, www.ncb.org.uk/ecu/making-it-real
Resources for supporting language development in the early years from children’s communication charity I CAN, www.ican.org.uk/What_is_the_issue/Latest%20policy%20and%20research/Early%20Years%20Pupil%20Premium.aspx
Education Endowment Foundation’s funding toolkit for early years settings, https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/toolkit/early-years
Early Education has a section of its website dedicated to EYPP, www.early-education.org.uk/eypp