Interview - Jean Gross

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The outgoing communication champion, who this week published a final report.

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What changes should be made to early years qualifications, so that practitioners have the knowledge and skills to develop children's speech and language?

I'd like to see a mandatory basic qualification for all early years practitioners which includes a module on communication and language, such as the one developed for CWDC for the funded Early Years Professional Status qualification. Then I'd like every setting or childminder network to have a Communication Champion/Early Language Lead Practitioner who develops even more expertise. These leading practitioners should have a recognised qualification such as the new City and Guilds Level 3 award in speech, language and communication created by the Communication Trust. Information is available at http://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk.

A recent survey found many parents are worried that their children will be misdiagnosed at the two-year-old check. How can this be avoided?

I think parents fear that the two-year check will be some sort of 'test' done by someone who does not know their child well. I don't think this is likely. If we can get the integrated review at two right, it will involve practitioners using ongoing observational assessment of the child in the setting, and linking closely with the parents and health visiting team to reach a shared view of where the child is in their development. Where children are not in a setting this is more difficult, but health visitors most often use questionnaires which enable parents to say what their child understands and can do, rather than tests. Research shows that these questionnaires can be highly reliable.

How significant is it that communication and language are a prime area in the revised EYFS?

I think this will really help practitioners focus on this vital area of learning, which is such a good predictor of children's success at school and in life.

Every Child a Talker was so popular and so successful at supporting children's language development. How can this work continue now the funding has stopped?

I would strongly encourage every local authority to prioritise ECaT within their Early Intervention Grant. On my travels I have found many are already doing this because the programme has shown brilliant results. For the future, it is important that the offer of free places for disadvantaged two-year-olds includes good training for staff on communication and language. The Government is funding a consortium led by I CAN for an Early Language Development programme aimed at children's centres, which should help.

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