Opportunity Areas: Derby - Derby delivery

Derby, where development and language skills are below the national average, is making upskilling practitioners a focus. By Charlotte Goddard

Parental involvement has been a key part of improving children’s communication
Parental involvement has been a key part of improving children’s communication

Derby is one of 12 ‘social mobility cold spots’ that have been designated Opportunity Areas. Ranked 303rd out of 324 in the Government’s Social Mobility Index, the proportion of children achieving a good level of development in 2016 was around three percentage points below the national average, at 66 per cent. In the most disadvantaged areas it was significantly below: only 47 per cent in Arboretum attained a good level of development. More children in Derby have speech, language and communication needs than the national average.

A range of events are being organised as part of TALK Derby, an 18-month programme of intensive speech, language and communication support, funded by the Derby Opportunity Area Partnership Board. Initially covering eight particularly disadvantaged inner-city wards when it launched in June 2019, the programme was extended in November to the whole city.

‘The Opportunity Area board was passionate about early years from the beginning, and quickly identified it as one of our main priorities,’ says Jane Calladine, executive head of Redwood and Parkview Primary Schools and who sits on the Partnership Board. An existing Primary Strategy Group, set up to identify training gaps in schools, was extended to include early years representatives, and is headed by Ms Calladine.

‘We identified language and communication as something we needed to tackle,’ says Wendy Colebourne, head of Harrington Nursery School and who sits on the Primary sub-group and the Partnership Board. ‘Then we had some heated debates about how to tackle it. It took us a while, because we wanted to make sure we had it right. There were a number of great ideas, but in the end it came down to which ones had the evidence behind them.’

Practitioner focus

Derby has a much lower percentage of Outstanding early years providers than the national average (seven per cent in August 2019, compared with 20 per cent nationally), and activity has focused on upskilling early years practitioners, establishing support networks and raising the quality of provision.

‘We ran a number of pilots in 2018/19 including training for practitioners at all levels, and a project to engage parents based on the Early Talkers programme. The pilots proved positive, so the Board made the decision to go ahead with TALK Derby,’ says Ms Colebourne.

TALK Derby is delivered by early years consultancy Hempsall’s, speech and language trainer Elklan, and the University of Wolverhampton. It provides free speech and language training and support to schools, childminders, Children’s Centres and other early years settings.

Early years settings are supported to work through The Balanced System, an 18-month process that looks at supporting parents, young people and families; enhancing and adapting the environment; developing the workforce; identifying need; and providing appropriate intervention. Practitioners are offered training, mentoring and peer support, allowing them to audit what they are already doing, look at best practice and fill gaps in provision.

‘The process made me realise although we are good at recognising when children have communication issues, there are some gaps,’ says Lindsay Fravolini, family engagement lead at Harrington Nursery School. ‘For example, when the speech and language practitioner comes, and we are given a plan to follow, we don’t always have time to help parents do that at home as well. Somewhere along the line we stopped doing that and focused on just doing the work ourselves. Now as well as sending resources home, we are working on one-to-one help with the parent and modelling the support.’

The setting has also introduced a ‘question of the month’ to encourage parents to talk to children, for example about the signs of spring. This is written up using pictures and symbols on a board in the setting, as well as promoted through text messaging and the Class Dojo communication app.

Speech and language training

TALK Derby is also funding settings to achieve Elklan’s Communication Friendly Setting Status, for which one in ten practitioners must be trained in Speech and Language Support at Level 3, all staff must take part in a five-session training course and the setting must complete an audit of practice and policies. Practitioners can also take part in a wide range of other training courses, such as Let’s Talk With Under 5s, which enables them to deliver a six-week Let’s Talk at Home course to parents and carers. Parents can also train to deliver the course.

The scheme aims to recruit 140 champions to drive the programme forward. Champions receive training, attend network meetings, are kept up to date with a newsletter and can access an online forum. TALK Derby also has a wider remit to raise awareness of the importance of early communication and language throughout the city as a whole.

In addition to speech and language, there is a range of other early years programmes funded by the Opportunity Area Partnership Board. It has funded SEND charity nasen, for example, to provide two SENCo trainers, train 60 practitioners to become qualified EY SENCos, provide CPD for 120 professionals, and carry out 60 early years SEND peer reviews, where trained reviewers will audit a setting’s provision. There is also a project looking at transitions.

‘We are writing guidelines on transition into nursery and from nursery to Reception,’ says Ms Colebourne. An Early Phonics training programme began before the Opportunity Area came into being, but has been able to continue with funding; Derby has now risen from the bottom of the league table for the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check to 46th in 2018/19.

A suite of family engagement projects aim to design school-led activities that make all aspects of a child’s schooling more accessible, such as taking parents evening events out into the community. Harrington has used an audit process to look at how family engagement can be improved. ‘In the past we have tended to run drop-in sessions at times convenient to the majority of parents, but that meant there were always some who couldn’t attend,’ says Ms Fravolini. She organised a whole-day drop-in, Tales by Torchlight, and found it attracted parents who had not engaged in the past.

Opportunity Area funding has freed Ms Fravolini to spend a day or two a week on family engagement, allowing her to put together information on child development to share with parents and come up with new ideas. She is also able to attend network meetings to share ideas with other settings.

A parental well-being drop-in was not only popular with parents but also gave staff a better insight into some children’s behaviour. ‘We handed out little bags of bath crystals, and discussed ideas on how to relax,’ Ms Fravolini says. ‘One parent stayed behind to have a one-to-one chat about how she had been feeling, and why she had been behaving in a certain way with her child, and now we know why the child is so clingy and doesn’t want to leave her mum.’

While the opportunities offered by the funding are welcome, the fact it has all come at once could put pressure on staff, says Ms Fravolini. However, this is balanced out by a focus on staff well-being, as well as that of parents and children, via the Emotionally Healthy Schools strand of work, she says.

‘We have been thinking as a board about the sustainability of the project,’ says Ms Calladine. ‘One of the key things is having a group that can look at the needs of the city and ensure training is available to meet those needs.’ While training can be very effective in upskilling staff and improving quality, the downside is high staff turnover. ‘If a TALK Derby champion moves on, they have to be replaced; it is important to keep that motivation going,’ she says.

The Board hopes the groups and networks that have been set up will continue. ‘It becomes a rolling programme, and that is something we want to maintain,’ Ms Calladine says.



  • To increase the number of Derby’s children achieving a good level of development at the end of the EYFS so that the city’s performance exceeds the national average by 2021.


  • 71 per cent of Derby children achieved a good level of development at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2019, an increase of 4 percentage points since 2016, compared with a national average increase of 3 percentage points to 72 per cent over the same period.
  • 60 per cent of children eligible for free school meals in Derby achieved a good level of development at the end of the EYFS in 2019, compared with 57 per cent in England as a whole.
  • By November 2019, TALK Derby had trained 151 early years professionals and recruited 100 champions.

Nursery World Print & Website

  • Latest print issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Free monthly activity poster
  • Themed supplements

From £119 per year


Nursery World Digital Membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 35,000 articles
  • Themed supplements

From £119 per year


© MA Education 2020. Published by MA Education Limited, St Jude's Church, Dulwich Road, Herne Hill, London SE24 0PB, a company registered in England and Wales no. 04002826. MA Education is part of the Mark Allen Group. – All Rights Reserved