‘Doing it together’- closing the gap on speech, language and communication in the early years

North Tyneside Council's project to improve speech, language and communication in the early years of a child’s life has helped to reduce the gap between socio-economically disadvantaged children and their peers.

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North Tyneside has a strong story to share about its sustained, systemic approach to improving speech, language and communication in the early years of a child’s life. The authority demonstrates the value and impact of maintaining a strong early years strategy championed by leaders and local politicians. This has resulted in sustained improvement in outcomes for all its youngest children.

The approach brings council, health voluntary sector and education partners together to operate a visible, coherent ethos of professional respect and shared vision across the borough. More significantly North Tyneside is one of a small number of authorities that have reduced the gap between socio-economically disadvantaged children and their peers, over a number of years

The challenge:

COVID-19 and resulting lockdowns impacted on young children and their ability to socialise and interact with the wider world.  This has resulted in North Tyneside in an increased number of children requiring intervention in settings and specialist support.

Problems in recruiting and retaining skilled and confident staff is highlighted by all sectors and services, resulting in increasing pressure on leaders and staff teams to recruit, train and rethink workforce management and development.

Support for staff development around SEND is highlighted as a strength in North Tyneside. However the increasing numbers of children identified with SEND and requiring additional support is generating concern for families and staff.

The solution:

Improvement in outcomes in early years in North Tyneside have been secured over a number of years by some key facets:

  • A shared vision of the 1001 days agenda at the highest levels of leadership and decision making. The Elected Mayor, a former headteacher, was a key a driver in the decision to bring health visitors and school nurses into the local authority and continues to advocate for the 1001 days agenda across local and national partners.
  • The Directors of Children’s Services and Public Health are committed to integrated teams and working practice at early help and specialist support levels of support and additionally seek out collaboration and sharing of best practice around universal health, care and education services. In practice this is seen in speech, language and communication and readiness for school being a key component of the 0–19 children’s public health service, and ‘very visible in the delivery of the Healthy Child Programme’.
  • An expectation of collaboration and holding to account that expects all partners meet regularly together to challenge practice and emerging areas of concern and support to find joint solutions ‘Doing it together’.
  • Early Years and School Improvement teams have been maintained resulting in the ability to support PVI and school settings through a range of well regarded programmes and projects which may be interesting for other authorities to explore further, including Launchpad for Literacy, 2 Matters, Foundations for Learning and communication and language audits and the specialist team at the Dene Communication Centre working with staff in settings to ensure they have the right skills to work with children.
  • The role of libraries has been reviewed in all local authorities. North Tyneside is actively developing libraries to support strategic direction in responding to changing community need, providing community spaces for families and professionals to come together for example.
  • A dialogue with schools and settings around inclusion how they can develop support for children with additional needs. Progression of the Inclusion Strategy will help.

The impact:

  • High expectation from senior leaders has maintained funding but expects and monitors outcomes.
  • A larger proportion of children who were entitled to free school meals, met each prime area early learning goal, compared to their national group.
  • Performance in the delivery of the two year developmental review remains good with an increase of 2.1% to 89.5% of children having their contact in timeframe.   Outcomes for children achieving threshold in all areas on ASQ has also increased to 86.4% from 84.6% last year.
  • To raise awareness of Early Years Inclusion Funding (EYIF), the head of portage and early years SENDCo have facilitated multiple training sessions based on a graduated approach model, small step target setting, when to apply for EYIF after reasonable adjustments have been made, and how to fill in the actual forms, involving parents / carers in the journey as well. In addition to these sessions, officers led a first session in collaboration with the North Tyneside Parent Carer Forum where parents/carers found out more about the graduated response and how they can be part of the journey for their child.  This is being led again through the year.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Projects continue as word of their effectiveness spreads and impact is seen in practice. The impact of longer term projects can be seen in feedback. Further projects are developing such as Foundations for Learning into Year 1 and beyond and Launchpad for Literacy – embedding the approach across early years.

Early Years SEND provision is being reviewed through a government project with a view to making a more robust pathway for early identification and intervention. Training that has been and is continuing to be delivered, will be essential in continuing to develop practitioner expertise about SEND and inclusion. Training is frequent, at different times of the day, face to face and online. This meets everyone’s needs.

A second cohort are taking part in the 2 Matters project with more professionals delivering sessions than 2021/22.

Lessons learned:

  • Senior leaders are committed to the identified priorities, workstreams and ways of working.
  • Many professionals have far more cross-service work streams which prevents “working in silos”. This is far more effective for everyone.
  • Professionals seize opportunities to showcase their services using intelligence such as feedback. Health visitors have recently explained their roles and how to contact them at schools and settings’ network meetings
  • The “team around the setting/school” approach promotes a consistent and open approach with the needed professionals around the table to support ways forwards.
  • Regular meetings ensure that professionals keep in touch and up to date with workstreams, priorities and challenges. Teams welcome professional challenge and strong relationships ensure this is leads to improvements.

Maddy Kennedy: [email protected]