Awards celebrate practitioners' commitment to speech and language

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The Foundation Unit at Bishop Alexander L.E.A.D Academy in Newark-on-Trent has been named Early Years Setting of the Year in the Shine a Light Awards 2017.


Staff from the Foundation Unit at Bishop Alexander L.E.A.D Academy with award host Gareth Gates

Ran by Pearson in partnership with The Communication Trust, the Shine a Light Awards are a national awards scheme which celebrate innovative work and excellent practice in supporting children and young people’s communication development.

Staff from the Foundation Unit were presented with their award in reccognition of their continued commitment to developing pupils’ communication skills, at an awards ceremony in London on 23 March, hosted by singer and theatre star Gareth Gates.

The award’s judges were impressed by the commitment by the Foundation Unit, together with the wider school, to develop children’s communication skills to ensure every child is given the best start.

The Foundation Unit uses a buddying scheme, where children of different cultures and home languages are partnered together to facilitate the development of language. Upon arrival, the setting assesses each child to establish their level of speech, language and communication. Once completed, the teaching staff use this information to determine which direction is best for each individual child.

For those who require targeted support, specific targets are set and delivered on a one-to-one basis or in a small group, while for children identified as needing specialist interventions, the unit works collaboratively with external professionals such as speech and language therapists, family support workers and paediatricians to ensure targets are addressed and met.

The Unit also has a number of communication-friendly spaces, including a mud kitchen, digging and den-making areas.

Judges included director of the Communication Trust Octavia Holland, international comedian, writer and speaker Francesca Martinez, Christopher Hall, director of clicnical assessment at Pearson, and chair of PACEY Jane Comeau.

The judges found that as a result of the efforts of staff, pupils and parents, the number of children performing below their age-expected level on entering the Foundation Unit, 80 per cent, falls as they start school, with 55 per cent at age-expected level and more than 20 per cent above it.

Julie Nicholson, language lead at Bishop Alexander L.E.A.D. Academy, said, ‘We are delighted that our team won Early Years Setting of the Year 2017.  It's a real honour. We are thrilled that our commitment to supporting speech, language and communication at all levels has been recognised in this national award. We truly believe that having speech, language and communication at the heart of all learning is key to making a real difference to our children on a daily basis.’

Gareth Gates, host of the 2017 Shine a Light Awards, said, ‘The dedication of The Foundation Unit at Bishop Alexander L.E.A.D. Academy is outstanding. Being able to communicate with confidence is often taken for granted but for many it is an everyday struggle. I have found my stutter crippling at times but I have learnt ways to manage my difficulties with the support of others.

‘It is heart-warming to know that other children and young people across England are getting the support they need to develop and achieve goals that may not have been possible otherwise. The Foundation Unit team should be extremely proud of their award.’

  • For a full list of the Shine a Light winners and highly commended finalists click here
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