Friday, 9 December 2011

The Hello journey - by Lynne Milford, Trust Press Officer

What a year it’s been! Hello, the national year of communication, has exceeded all our expectations.

Run by The Communication Trust in partnership with Jean Gross, the Government’s Communication Champion, Hello set out to make children and young people’s communication development a priority in homes and schools across the country.

A particular focus has been on supporting children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). It was John Bercow MPs Review of Services for Children and Young People (0-19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs in 2008, which originally sparked off the national year.

Highlights of the year have included creating a network of 200 Hello local coordinators, smashing a Guinness World record book with I CAN’s Chatterbox Challenge event, disseminating to date 310,000 Hello resources and supporting the launch of a brand new CBeebies TV programme, Raa Raa the Noisy Lion.

In addition to this, 800 schools registered to take part in our No Pens Day Wednesday initiative, a brand new qualification was launched in conjunction with City and Guilds and the winners of the Shine a Light Hello awards were recently announced at a glitzy award ceremony hosted by TV and radio presenter, Vanessa Feltz.

From January to March 2012, the evaluation of the impact of Hello will take place. Information, resources and updates will continue to be available on our website. And we still want to find out about your excellent events and innovative practice by emailing

A special thanks goes to BT and Pearson Assessment for their sponsorship of Hello and long term commitment to the cause. And thank to you for your contribution however big or small it might have been. We simply couldn’t have made the year such a success without your input.

For more information, download our Hello journey document here (

For information on the qualification click here ( )

Monday, 31 October 2011

Make TV time, talk time! - by Lynne Milford, Press Officer

According to an article in the Daily Mail today (, ‘passive’ television watching – leaving the television playing when you’re not really watching - is as dangerous for children as passive smoking.

Experts at the American Academy of Paediatrics said parents are more likely to use television or a computer to keep children occupied, but they revealed watching TV interferes with the amount of time children and parents spend interacting and can also interfere with a child’s ability to learn from play. The Communication Trust strongly believe that spending time speaking and listening to your child is vital for developing their communication skills. However, that does not mean that you cannot turn TV and other forms of technology into communication opportunities.

Earlier in the year, as part of the Hello campaign (national year of communication), we were involved in the development and launch of Raa Raa The Noisy Lion. Raa Raa is a show on CBeebies that supports the development of speech and language through rhyme and rhythm. We developed some top tips for making the most of your television time. These include making sure children watch programmes that are age appropriate, encouraging your child to ask and answer questions relating to the programme and if you let your children watch TV, watch it with them as much as possible.

To see Raa Raa’s top ten telly tips, click here (

To find out more about Raa Raa, click here ( and you can also download Raa Raa resources for parents and practitioners here (

Monday, 24 October 2011

Charity praises supporters for successful campaign - Lynne Milford, Press Officer

For the 200 delegates, it was a chance to network, meet old friends and make new connections in the world of speech and language therapy.

For the visiting MPs and Ministers, it was a chance to see what the Hello campaign is all about and to meet people who work with children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

But most importantly, it was a chance for The Communication Trust to say a huge thank you to everyone who had supported the event, produced resources and generally raised the profile of the issue.

Event sponsor Annette Brooke MP hit the nail on the head when she said the purpose of the event was celebration. She said: “I was excited by what would happen during the year and the Hello campaign has been an amazing success. So many children were missing out on achieving their full potential in life for a host of reasons. We are here to highlight and celebrate the amazing work that has gone on and I would like to congratulate all the people involved in that.”

The highlight of the event was a presentation by 18-year-old Ben Morfey from Plymouth. Ben has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and cannot speak, but gave his presentation with the aid of the electronic communication aid which he uses to speak. He explained about his life, how he enjoys sending text messages to his family and attending Dame Hannah Rogers School for children with physical and learning difficulties.

Communication Champion Jean Gross spoke about the events she has toured the country to visit. This began in February when she found herself in Sheffield city centre with the Lord Mayor, Director of Children’s Services, the elected member for Children, children and their parents doing ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ for the Chatterbox Challenge World Record attempt.

Children and Families Minister Sarah Teather MP told the gathering she had tried to make speech, language and communication needs a core policy. She said: “An enormous amount has been achieved by people in this room, laying the building blocks for work we can do in future.”
There are just two months left in the national year of communication but many changes have been made in the world of speech, language and communication and the Trust will be planning how to make Hello’s legacy long-lasting.

For more information about the remaining themes of Hello visit our website

Thursday, 20 October 2011

In the right place at the right time! - Lynne Milford, Press and PR Officer

I’ve managed to join The Communication Trust at a very exciting time. I’m the new press officer and I’ve arrived the week of a big parliamentary event to celebrate Hello, the National Year of Communication. There may only be two months left until the campaign ends, but there’s still plenty to do in evaluating its success and preparing its legacy for next year. This is where I hope to be heavily involved. It would be totally pointless to have had such a fantastic year encouraging parents, schools and children to focus on communication and raising awareness of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and not to build on it for the future. I’ve always been the kind of person who likes to look to the future and move things forward.

For me, communicating has never been a problem. Some people would say I talk too much, others say they love to hear my north-eastern accent (I’m from Durham), but I’ve never really had a problem getting my point across. Communicating, whether in speaking, writing or reading, has always comes as second nature to me. I find it baffling that some children grow up in a world where there are unable to communicate properly and cannot get the help they need. It must be incredibly frustrating for them. I take it for granted that I will be able to find the right words to express my point, and on the rare occasions I can’t it is annoying. Imagine what it must be like to never be able to find the right words? Or not to be able to say them even if you do know them?

So, that’s why I’m delighted to have joined The Communication Trust at a point where it is so able to influence the agenda. Yes, it’s going to be hard work, but with the help of our consortium, MPs, local co-ordinators, teachers and parents all working together we can keep this issue in a prominent place on the local and national agenda and we can make it easier to identify and help those children who so desperately need it. I’m looking forward to using my communication skills to make sure that no child ever has to struggle along unable to understand the world around them, that parents are fully equipped to know if their child has problems and how they can help, and that teachers and healthcare professionals are able to provide the help and support which is required.

Hopefully I can use my communication skills – my ability to speak, write and most importantly to listen – to make sure that children and parents can get whatever help they need. So for once in my life, I feel like I’ve arrived in the right place at the right time, somewhere I can really make a difference. So watch this space...

Monday, 3 October 2011

No Pens Day Wednesday - guest slot, Jean Gross, Communication Champion

Last week about a quarter of a million children and young people took part in the Hello campaign’s No Pens Day Wednesday, which seems to have really hit the spot with teachers.

I was lucky enough to visit St Joseph’s Primary School in Camden, where overnight a time machine had arrived in the playground. Covered in silver foil and cordoned off, it had a huge clock with backwards numbers, a 0-9 number pad, a Blue Peter-type control console and – best of all- a calendar with Wednesday 28th September marked with a cross and the words ‘St Joseph’s School, Earth’ scrawled across the page.

The local community policewoman came down to check for health and safety, while the children came out in class groups to explore and talk about the machine. The oldest children discussed what year they might want to go back (or forward) to. One girl said 9/11, so ‘We could stop it happening’. A child in a younger class suggested that maybe if you pressed a number on the number pad you would become that age – ‘You’d be six..or nine...’

Others speculated about where the machine might have come from. ‘I think it came from the sky’ (and ‘I think the teachers made it’), while the teachers encouraged speculative language and modelled exciting vocabulary.

Then each class used the time machine as a stimulus for no-pens activities. In Reception the creative areas had been set out with foil and glitter and boxes for the children to use. Older groups planned and made their own robots and time machines in design and technology.

In Year 6 children took part in an extended improvisation about life in the year 3011, when the world was ruled by orang-utans. One activity was group work to plan a talking brochure for a school in this new world. They had to choose a name for their school and its vision statement, then use their bodies to create a still image for the front cover of the prospectus. Later they recorded the images using camera and sound, and went on to work on the inside pages.

In another class I watched a maths lesson. Children worked in groups, each child holding a number on a card. No-one was allowed to show their card to each other. The task was to arrange themselves into a line with their numbers in size order, by asking each other questions – ‘Has your number got three digits?’ and so on.

The day made me very aware of the problems of acoustics in classrooms. Children all talking in groups makes quite a buzz, so they had to focus hard to listen to each other. Many classrooms aren’t designed for talk. Many twenty-first century workplaces are. Interesting?

There’s no doubt the day was full-on for the teachers, without those moments when everyone is writing quietly. But those I spoke to said they loved the day, despite the challenges. So did many other schools across the country, according to some of the Twitter conversations we picked up.

We have been asked if No Pens Day will happen again. Any school that wants to can still take part, of course – many have chosen their own Wednesday (or Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday...) later on in the year. The guidance and lesson plans are still available at But I also hope the day will become an annual fixture in the education calendar, to remind us all that communication skills are vital for today’s learners, and that over a million children in the UK have speech, language and communication needs that are often misidentified, misunderstood - or missed altogether.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Supporting early identification – we have won the argument but devil in the detail, Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

The Communication Trust is delighted that our lobbying efforts over the last 5 years have been rewarded with such strong mentions for speech, language and communication (SLC) in the Foundations Years Strategy and Healthy Child Programme and across work on reducing social inequalities. While it easy to take these successes for granted there has, as lead researchers have noted, been a substantive shift in recognition of the importance of early SLC skills for school readiness and best life outcomes.

Particularly pleasing is the focus on early identification (and with this early intervention). On Monday, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists hosted a roundtable of therapists, researchers, the Trust and the Communication Champion to start to put the ‘meat on the bones’ of what early identification should look like. With the government committed to assessment at age 2 and ½ we have a real chance to build on the best of what is already working to further improve the system.

As a starting point the group identified the following as the 10 potential characteristics of effective early identification programme for a community – be that a single nursery setting or an entire county.

What do people think? What is missing? What matters most? Does it matter what screening tool is used? Do we need a screening tool at all? Which staff most likely to do this? The Trust will be doing more work on early identification over coming months so please do share your thinking as we probably have a once in a generation chance to influence so really positive developments.

What matters in early identification?

1. Staff who are appropriately skilled and trained to undertake observational assessment

2. Observational and ongoing assessment, undertaken in conjunction with the family and other carers

3. Coverage of full age range – 0 to 2 as well as at 2 and 5 year progress check, and coverage not only of the early years but in the primary or secondary school – recognising that children may have slipped through the net , and that children’s needs can change.

4. Provide for ongoing monitoring – for example between 2 and 5 , rather than just being used at fixed points

5. Be capable of picking up children with comprehension problems as well as speech and language

6. Be capable of distinguishing English as an additional language from speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)

7. Be differentiated to meet the needs of families from different groups and cultures

8. Assess the context for the child’s language learning – parent-child interaction and the home learning environment - as well as the child’s developmental level

9. Lead to action to address any needs identified

10. Be consistent, so that a child would be entitled to high quality progress checks wherever they live

Monday, 5 September 2011

What makes a grown up and (fairly) level headed woman bash her head on a desk? I’ll tell you – the third call of the day to a major utility provider. A problem with billing should have been a two minute call. Instead I had to work my way through multiple choice machine questions and key in my account number before I could speak to a real person. Then the real person really had not got a grip on either my accent (English southern) requiring three attempts at spelling my surname and struggled to pick up the exasperated (but still polite) tone in my voice. Then the phone cut out (maybe they HAD got the tone). Then ringing to complain I got stuck in a loop of referrals between people and machines and hold tones. Cue one dent in desk.

I'm not alone. The Guardian reports that Brian Evans of Bristol attempted to make an appointment using an automated system for an eye appointment only to find that the system did not get his, not so broad, accent. The Guardian then did an, oh so ‘funny’, investigation ringing up phone lines with a range of accents and a lisp.

Except it’s not a joke is it. If I struggled – being fairly articulate and confident - and all the systems tested by the Guardian failed, then how accessible are these services for those who struggle with speech, language or communication? How do voice recognition systems work for people who stammer or use AAC? How can people with SLI navigate systems that use complex language or business jargon and where even the real people that you get through to struggle to be understood? It’s not on.

There have been several attempts at creating a Communication Charter or Kitemark for organisations that are ‘communication friendly’ and work in Scotland is quite advanced on developing a culture where it’s as unacceptable to deny access on grounds of communication as it would be to put a flight of stairs into a public building with no ramp. We need to get there too. It would save me buying a new desk.

Friday, 26 August 2011

To question or not to question, that IS the question! - Alison Marrs, Professional Advisor

I recently saw my friend’s 18 month old son Marley and he called my water bottle, ‘more’. This confirmed to me how children link what they hear to what they see. Naturally my friend would ask Marley, ‘more?’ when offering him water and he now thinks water is called, ‘more’.

Adults do need to think about how we use questions therefore.
If a child’s not developed an understanding of what an object or concept is, then, just as Marley did, they’ll link a question they hear, to what they see. If every time they hold a banana, and an adult says, ‘What’s that?, they may think a banana’s called a ‘What’s that?’

The use of questions and their impact during interactions between parents and children (often referred to as ‘parent-child communication’ or ‘parent-child interaction’) has been studied widely. Parents naturally ask questions and give commands when there is silence or when their child is not saying anything. Parents naturally try to create a conversation this way.

Unknown to many though, research has shown that frequent parental use of directive and corrective statements (e.g. questions and command giving) has been shown to link with delays in children's language development. Of course we all naturally ask questions of our children, but if we do it too often it can have an effect.

From such research, professional’s advice to parents is often to ‘follow their child’s lead’ and to, ‘Question less and comment more’. This involves:

· Watching what they are doing (silently)
· Waiting for them to communicate (either by them doing something such as pointing/looking at an object or by saying something)
· Responding to this communication (for example, by also pointing then naming an object, looking at what their child looks at and naming it, copying what their child says or adding one or two more words to this.)

This can be particularly useful for young children who are developing language or who have difficulty learning language i.e. children with a delay in their language development or those with a persistent speech, language and communication need (SLCN). It’s often these children who are silent, creating the natural instinct in their parents to want to take the lead with questions and commands.

However often these children don’t understand questions and commands, need extra time to process what they’ve heard and need extra time to respond. If parents and adults question children less and comment more, it can support their language to develop.

So – are adults not meant to ask questions at all?
The research mentioned above indicates that frequent direction and commands to children can have an impact as opposed to occasional direction and commands.

Some questions are asked to test children’s knowledge by wanting a one-word factual answer e.g. ‘What’s that?’, but other questions which are open-ended, can lead to getting longer answers from children.

Research into the use of open-ended questions with school children, that start with phrases such as, ‘I wonder if...?, ‘What could we do....?, Can you find a way to.....?’ has shown these questions to be useful for learning, encouraging children to think, develop creative thinking and problem solving skills.These type of questions allow children to use the knowledge they have to come up with an answer rather than worrying about getting the answer right. Children’s answers can reveal a lot about their knowledge in comparison to when they are being asked the answer to a closed, testing questions such as, ‘What is the capital of France?’

There are different types of questions and as adults we just have to be careful about when and how we use them.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The breakdown of society? - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

I am not so glib as to suggest that my partner leaving me trapped at home on Saturday by taking car seat and pram led directly to riots on the streets but it did leave me wondering about the importance of communication skills, and real human interaction, in building resilient communities.

What’s the link? Well I had a range of chores that I planned to do with children and baby in and around the local town. When the option of leaving the home was removed, because carrying a wiggly heavy baby 2 miles in your arms is not a good idea, I did them all online.

The food shopping was delivered courtesy of the local shop’s national website. I uploaded photos to a national store to get them printed rather than taking the memory stick to the local photo shop. I emailed thank you cards for the christening rather than writing them out and taking them to the post office. I sent my flowers to via the web rather than picking them up from the florist and popping around to the neighbour who had helped during a recent family emergency.

So my spoken contact for the day was limited to my children (lovely) and my partner (raised voices – less lovely - but forgiven now) and a delivery man. Yes I made a few phone calls but that interaction that comes from being out and about – chatting to the woman on checkout, whinging with fellow customers in the post office about the length of the queues, taking half an hour to wax lyrical about the beautiful flowers with a fellow enthusiast – were all lost.

Online everything is great. I love my smartphone. I am a child (well less child) of the internet and my children treat it as a normal part of their life. But balance is everything. Just one day without real people to eyeball and talk to made me twitchy but I can also see how easy it would be to slip into a world where everything was done with the click of the mouse. Talking matters. Face time matters (and not just as an iPhone application). Remembering not to drive off with the car seat in your car matters (and won’t I can assure you happen again!).

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Farewell blog - Cara Evans, Operations Director

So the time has come to take my ever increasing bump off home and prepare myself for the next adventure. As many of you will have seen from my last day in the office and at the last consortium meeting it's quite an emotional time for me, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, one of the main reasons I took the job at The Communication Trust was my very strong belief in the power of the third sector. It has been so wonderful to see the SLCN sector come together in the past four years and speak with one voice. I would particular like to thank I CAN for hosting the Trust so far. I know as the only full time member of staff in the first year the Trust would not have been able to deliver so much without the help of I CAN. Each consortium members bring its own unique perspective, skills and expertise to the Trust and we are working so well because of that continued support. I do hope that we continue to work successfully in partnership as that is our core strength.

Secondly, I have been introduced to a whole new sector and learnt so much about speech, language and communication. As a parent I hope to transfer that knowledge into practice! I have been amazed by the passion and determination of many speech, language therapists, not least the ones I work with closely. Their desire to help children and young people is phenomenal and has been an inspiration to me.

Lastly, but by no means least I have been so lucky to work directly with some wonderful people. I can honestly say in my nearly 20 years of working I have never had such a hard working team. I know many of you see the quantity and quality of what we produce but from only 14 (not all full time) people is simply amazing. I shall miss them more than words can say and am looking forward to working with them again in a few months time. So farewell for now and I will keep you updated on my next adventure.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Charity cuts or charity growth - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

Shock news today – Councils cutting charity funding with more than 2,000 charities sacking staff and closing services with those working with the young and disabled worst hit. For those of us working in the sector the shock is that it is only 2,000 as horror stories of contract cuts have been circulating for the last year.

Does it matter? In the scheme of things the £110 million at risk in the report is small fry compared to wider cuts in public service spending. If cutting charity money saves public sector staff maybe, if it saves an experienced SLT or an excellent advisory teacher, that is a good thing?

Except that so many of the charities being affected are, like so many third sector bodies, the ones that focus on the most vulnerable. The niche groups. Those requiring specialist help. Those who are too expensive, too difficult, too marginalised for the state sector to reach.

The picture is still unclear. Alongside these cuts the ‘market’ is, as I have written before, opening up in ways that we could never have expected and some third sector bodies are preparing for an increase in income or moving further into public sector delivery. Under ‘Any Qualified Provider’ a range of voluntary organisations are gearing up to compete for public sector contracts which into the future may include speech and language therapy provision. In Lincolnshire the Council is considering moving all schools into academies supported by one charity and last week saw the announcement that a new charity will take forward the Achievement for All programme working with schools to improve outcomes for children with SEN (including speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)).

So what's role for charities into the future? What is the real picture? Trust members - has your local income gone up or down? Are you gearing up for bigger things or are your services at risk? For public sector staff – are charities a blessing picking up the needs that you cannot or a drain taking resources away from where you need it? Can the not-for-profit ethos be protected or will we see a rise in ‘for profit’ provision to support children with SLCN? And most of all how will we ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable, and often the most disenfranchised, are best met.

Friday, 29 July 2011

The debate is being had – are you in or out? Laura Smith, Media and Campaign Manager

As a media professional, I know the importance of the phrase ‘if a debate is being had it's better to be in it than out and watching from the sidelines’. Media work is tough - you cannot ‘manage’ or ‘control’ the message but it is our job to frame the debate in the best way possible.

Yesterday, a piece on the BBC Today Programme (which has over 1 million listeners a day) set the pace for the news agenda. This has continued today with stories in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

Journalists have been drawn to Frank Fields MP, the Government’s poverty czar, anecdotal comments that some children start school unable to say their name or even unaware that they have a name. We are talking about a small minority of children but experts like Jean Gross, Communication Champion, and other head teachers have said ‘sadly it does happen’.

Neil Wilson, a Head teacher of a federation of schools in Manchester, was brave enough to put his voice out there and say “This is the Holy Grail of breaking barriers of underachievement and disaffection”. And by ‘this’ he means improving children’s communication skills.

It's our job (and I mean the collective we) to broaden the debate out. To ensure that messages come through that communication underpins everything else, that we are not talking about one ‘homogenous’ group of children and importantly that the solutions are out there and great work is being done on the ground. Jean did this very well in yesterday Today’s Programme – you can listen again here.

The Communication Trust represents 40 voluntary and community organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication. Many of the children and young people we represent have a long term communication need that has absolutely nothing to do with social and environmental factors. They need specialist help at the right time and deserve greater understanding from society.

However, we also advocate for those children with delayed language and this is a large group - 50% in some areas of social deprivation. They are important because this is about children’s life chances and with the right help they can catch up with their peers. Our consortium understands more than most how challenging life is if you struggle to communicate and no child should do so needlessly.

This is why the Hello campaign (national year of communication) is working to help both groups of children and to make communication a priority for all. We have developed posters, top tips leaflets, ‘ages and stages’ booklets for parents and professionals that are all available free at

Within our consortium help lines are available (such as Afasic’s and I CAN’s enquiry service) and the British Stammering Association’s facebook page is an excellent example of support and advice that can be provided to others. If you haven’t – take a moment to find out more about our consortium here.

So I ask you to add your voice to the mix. Comment on newspaper articles, write your own blog, post up your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter and talk to others because that what’s the media does – it starts a conversation and then we need to fill it.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Raising expectations but not meeting needs?

I have been asked several times over the last year if now is really the right time to be running a major awareness raising campaign. With cuts to services rife and ongoing confusion on health and education structures some have asked if it is fair to raise awareness of speech, langauge and communication needs (SLCN) when there may be a dearth of local services to refer families to.

The current risk to service provision concerns the Trust and our members greatly. Not only do we back RCSLT’s Giving Voice Campaign, the private and public lobbying from the voluntary sector locally and nationally is one of the best defences against cuts.

But the idea of not running Hello just because there are cuts to provision is not something we could entertain. Part of the reason that it is so easy to cut SEN services is because, unless you are a parent of a child with a specific language impairment, the general public just don’t get it. I know I am such a parent.

More importantly though to suggest that we should not try everything we can to identify a child’s SLCN because we would be raising expectations of services that might not be there is, to my mind, not fulfilling our obligation to children. Firstly families should rightly expect a service and should be supported to agitate for same. Secondly there are many things that parents and the universal workforce can do to support both typical communication development and to help a child with SLCN that can be put into place immediately. This does not negate the need for specialist help for those that need it but rather recognises that provision is the sum of input from many professionals.

Most importantly the early identification of needs is one of the single most important aspects in mitigating the impact of SLCN and regardless of service provision the ‘naming’ of a problem that many parents know is there but can’t quite put their finger on is liberating – even if it is the start of a long and sometimes difficult journey.

So yes – now is the right time to raise awareness, to make sure families are not alone and to ensure the public know why communication matters. And this year with Hello, and next year and the year after, and until the job is done, the Trust will be making sure that no child with SLCN feels alone.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Speech and language everywhere - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

What a great first day back from maternity leave. A meeting with the Minister to discuss the SEN Green Paper and the brilliant new research piece from Rousltone et al on unequivocal link between speech and language and achievement.

The Roulstone article opens with a summary of speech, language and communication / needs (SLC/N) in the policy world and as I read it I realised how very far we have come in the last five years. When starting as Director of Communications at I CAN I was struck by how little speech and language featured in policy. At best it was in an SEN ghetto and even there a poor relation. There were some wonderful advocates of speaking and listening within curriculum and early years but they were lone voices in an agenda dominated by reading and writing.

The work I started then built on efforts of many before and pushed forward an agenda of collaboration that has led the success we see now.

I wouldn’t quite say speech and language is the ubiquitous issue de jour but I’d argue that we have hit the target I set to place speaking and listening in the same ball park as childhood obesity. And, with much respect to my very dear colleagues in autism and dyslexia, we are closer to having specific language impairment and other SLC/N as recognised in policy and trade press terms as those equally important conditions – a challenge I took on at the launch of The Communication Trust at the Cinnamon Club.

Policy shift is one thing – and the increase in both quality and number of media mentions is another win – but key is what happens on the ground. Our work on raising awareness has undoubtedly contributed to investment in the frontline from Every Child a Talker (ECAT), the Bercow Review and the resulting Action Plan and our efforts mean that many new central initiatives support speech and language locally. I hear much from parents and professionals how the work of the Trust and our partners, the Communication Champion and Hello has helped them save and shape frontline services by providing a spotlight on SLC/N and supporting their local advocacy efforts.

But we are entering difficult times. We have won much ground but the task now is to keep moving forward when the easiest thing to do would be to fall back. So there are new challenges to set, old partners to pull closer and new ones to seek out. So here is to the first day back and to the first day of the next five years.

Please click here to view information about the Roulestone Research, this links to the Latest News section on the Hello website and is the article titled: Reading and talking to children at home makes starting school easier

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Shine a Light – Annie Broadbent, Press Officer

Everyone likes a bit of recognition. Even the ones who shy away from the spotlight can’t deny that being acknowledged for something you have achieved gives you a little warm glow inside.

What with it being the national year of communication and all, it makes sense to use this time to bring to light those special individuals and teams who have really run the extra mile to support children’s communication development. So often those people go unheard and unappreciated and therefore the work they do and the impact it has also gets left in the shadows.

This is perhaps the underlying significance of the awards. They not only celebrate the individuals and the work they do, but they shine a light on the issue of communication itself. One of the ongoing struggles for those working within the sector of children’s education and development, is the invisibility of communication difficulties. Speech, language and communications needs are not always manifested in some form of physical disability, in fact a lot of the time they are manifested in silence. More to the point, the development of a child’s communication skills is often presumed to develop as naturally as walking, making it a tough job for people to know what to look out for.

These awards are not only a chance for young people, employers, multi-agency teams and many more to get the recognition they deserve, but it’s also an opportunity for them to really help send a vital message out there to those with less experience in children’s communication development. Highlighting the best practice out there is a positive and encouraging way of turning the invisible into the visible. It breaks it down, makes it tangible, evident, and provides a foundation on which others can work from. We hope these awards are inspiring and motivating, not only to those who are already doing fantastic work with children’s communication, but also to those who don’t understand the issue so well.

It makes me think back to those uncontrollable moments in school of shoving your hand up desperately, when the teacher asks a question that you know, only you, know the answer to. They are quite often the only moments when the rest of the class listens. Of course this analogy is not like for like in every detail, and it might have been just me who did that, but I suppose the key thing to take from it, is that level of excitement and pride one feels when they want to show off, and also the legacy that that excitement and pride can leave for others to take on and develop.

This is a chance to stop, look at what you and people around you are doing to support children’s communication, shout about it, share your pride and ultimately spread the word – children’s communication development is fundamental to their happiness and future development and we are all responsible in some way or another for making sure no child is left out or left behind.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Children's Chatter - Wendy Lee, Professional Director

I am on a train travelling from London to Leeds. I do this a lot and usually get a phenomenal amount of work done on my travels. In my carriage are around 12 children with their teachers. The children are fairly young, but are full of talk; asking questions in long and complicated sentences, talking together with short spurts of questions, comments, interjected the whole time with laughter and the occasional reminder from one of the teachers to keep the noise down to an acceptable level.

Honestly, on a different day, I might find it a bit irritating, trying to get on with work with this clamour as a backdrop, but today I can’t help be impressed with their typical language development (sad, but true). You can almost hear the cogs whirling round as the children talk, as they manipulate language to work out how to find out about complicated situations they have seen, sharing their views, opinions and experiences, seeking clarification from their teachers. You can feel the personality of these youngsters coming through.

The thing is, this situation is one that for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) find extremely challenging – to join in with quick fire conversations, with the banter and turn taking, knowing when to listen and when to interrupt, being able to say the right thing to the teacher and the right thing to friends, to be clear in their speech and tell entertaining and understandable tales of their adventures, to share likes and dislikes, best bits and worst bits – to ask “are we nearly there yet.....”

Tomorrow I will be talking to some children with SLCN, some have pretty obvious speech difficulties, though in others it's more subtle. They can come across as maybe a little younger than their years, maybe a little slower to respond and not as able to construct the free flowing conversations as their typically developing peers.

As part of the Hello campaign, we want to raise awareness of children with SLCN and to ensure they are in the forefront of the minds of local and national leaders. We are in challenging times at the coal face of children’s services, so it seems even more important to highlight the fundamental importance of speech and language. As part of the campaign we are asking everyone to write to their MP and to their local council.

We have provided all the information you need to do this in our You’re the Voice resource. Download it today and spread the word at

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Exciting times - Cara Evans, Operations Director

As I approach the 29th week of my pregnancy it's time to start thinking practically about the little one's arrival's. It's strange, part of me feels like the anticipation just before Christmas, birthday and other exciting events all rolled into one - I'm so excited I feel I might pop (well I literally might!!). Don't worry I shan't dwell on that bit. The other half of me is quietly terrified. It feels like the night before going to the dentist - you should know I am scared stiff of the dentist!!

But I'm thinking of what kind of mum I will be, there are so many things we need to do. I see all the government policies involving parents and representing parent choice, all I want to do is make sure she is ok!!

I was lucky enough to go on a well deserved holiday a few weeks back with my partner and I observed many parents communicating with their children, it's what happens when you work at the Trust! One incident stuck in my head, two families at the dinner table, one having brought lots of books and games for their children, father asking his son what he thought of the journey and what did he want to do tomorrow, mum playing with her daughter. Contrast to family number two, a set of 3/4 year old twins, dummies in mouths watching a DVD at the dinner table (I so wanted to give them a copy of Small talk). But who am I to judge, difficult choices to make every day. I just hope I make the right ones!!

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Guest slot, National Literacy Trust

This Father’s Day, the National Literacy Trust is launching a brand new Dads section to its recently launched and highly popular website, dedicated to helping new dads communicate more with their young children.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust comments:
“Each year around 500,000 men become dads for the first time. It’s brand new territory for most men but babies don’t come with instruction manuals like cars and phones and many new dads lack the support networks that new mums have. So we’ve tried to create a place where new dads can find out advice about one of the most important aspects of their new baby’s development.”

The newly launched section which encourages new dads to incorporate ‘TLC’ (Talking, Listening and Communicating) into their everyday life with their new baby is being endorsed by the Fatherhood Institute for the way it encourages dads to play a central role in a crucial part of their child’s future development.

Please click here to read the full press release.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Latest blog from Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

As a life-long volunteer, charity worker and passionate advocate of the third sector, friends are surprised when I roll my eyes at the Prime Minister’s/Health Secretary’s/Education Secretary’s/Environment Secretary’s (delete depending on which proposal is currently under discussion) enthusiastic endorsement of the charity sector to run public services.

Is it because I don’t believe the third sector should run public sector provision? Of course not-many Trust members run non maintained special schools and other outstanding specialist provision contracted by the state. The Trust itself wins government contracts and is working with members on winning more.

Do I agree with the public sector unions that charities taking over contracts put public sector workers out of jobs? Well, of course, there is an inevitability that if a charity wins a local contract that public sector staff may lose roles- but equally many public sector staff find employment in the voluntary sector and many charity workers are being laid off as local public sector provision pulls back charity grants to save staff posts. I don’t care who the employer is as long as people are skilled for the job and there is enough money to commission services (and of course this latter is a much bigger risk to public services than charity contracts).

Am I concerned about the changing face of the voluntary sector? Maybe a bit – care must be taken to maintain our campaigning work because, despite the protests of MPs like Charlie Elphicke, this work has always and will always be an essential part of charity work and one of our best routes to supporting our users. The Trust itself is an example of how public funding in some areas is no barrier to effective change in policy.

The worry that the ‘publicisation’ of charities is there – but that only applies to relatively small number of contract driven charities who dominate the ACEVO and NCVO debates. There will always be thousands of small, national and local, volunteer engaging charities picking up those that are failed by public funded services and who will never get any government money. Many of the Trust’s smaller members provide excellent volunteer run family support programmes that take little or no public funding.

My key concern is that such statements are at best uninformed and at worst deliberately disingenuous. Yes the voluntary sector will pick up some of the work but the proportion that it does will be tiny compared to the private sector who already receive billions to run public services and are circling for even more. And even the term voluntary sector is not accurate because there are charities who will plough funding from contacts back into core mission and then there are those corporates who will, legally I should stress, set up special purpose vehicles that sound all warm and fluffy or partner with voluntary sector partners to win bids and then cream off profits.

My personal views on the use of market forces to improve public services are still forming – that there is a role for charities is for me quite clear. Just let’s not pretend that this will be more than it is and let’s really understand what our USP and added value is before we warmly welcome any more Minister announcements.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Latest blog from Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

Oh come on – now the Guardian says that bottle feeding mothers are responsible for an increased risk of their child having Behavioural , Social and Emotional Disorders. Leaving aside irritation that, having reviewed all the articles on the subject, it is the always the mother who chooses to give their child the bottle (are fathers somehow absolved from making decisions about their child by the British media) it brought home to me again that the line between supporting parents with good information and making them feel bad for their, often well intentioned, decisions is a thin one.

Both the Trust and our members aim to get the best possible guidance and support to families - and I think that the wonderful range of materials that are coming out under the Hello campaign and the services available from the charities that we work with exemplify this.

But it's easy to get it wrong. Being a parent of any child is hard – being a parent of a child with a disability or additional need is even harder. Guilt weights heavily on parents of children with SLCN and so many parents blame themselves . Organisations or experts that add to these pressures through careless words, that often expose their own subtle prejudices of how things should be, cause great pain.

Inevitably journalists, MPs and especially parents themselves want to know what it is that parents can do better. But for every thing that parents can do better (and heaven knows for me there is a long list) there are a hundred things that parents are doing brilliantly. And it is that point that we need to make because parenting is not one choice – tv or no tv; forward facing pram or parent facing pram; bottle or breast – it is a hundred choices. There is no one magic bullet and the things that we know make the biggest difference to the outcomes of any child – class, income and parent education – are still areas that we struggle to find the right words over and struggle even more to find the right solutions for (note the angst that Field’s and Allen’s reports on childhood outcomes created when they attempted to tackle these issues).

So for me – I'm giving Josh his next bottle in a few hours. Following his tummy time, baby massage, ten minutes in front of the TV while I wash up and a push around the block in his parent facing buggy while he looks at pictures on my IPhone. I’m leaving guilt aside for a while and replacing it with love – and as I do that it occurs to me that maybe there is a magic bullet after all.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A little brave lion - Andrew Ball, Campaign Director

I recently had to take my 3 year old son to our local Accident and Emergency department. We’re lucky that our local hospital has a separate emergency department for children with a nice waiting room with a handful of toys (mostly broken), a vending machine (full of healthy sweets, chocolate and fizzy drinks) and a nice big widescreen TV (to help while away the hours waiting).

To my surprise, whoever run this children’s A&E had decided that it was appropriate to have the EastEnders omnibus edition showing on the television...

When I arrived there were two young parents with their kids already waiting to be seen – a father and son and a mother and daughter. The young father was content for his 18 month old son to play with the toys whilst he concentrated on his BlackBerry. In the 20 minutes we were waiting there, the only thing that the father said to his son was "I'm watching you" (while he clearly was playing with his phone) and “sit down, and watch that”.

Meanwhile, the young mum was watching the television with her 4 year old daughter. After a few minutes the daughter turned to her mum and said "I love Cat and the baby..."! Now I know that ‘cat’ and ‘baby’ are probably two of the first words that children learn but surely they should never be used by a 4 year in relation to a story line involving cot death, kidnapping and who knows what else. Tom and Jerry never covered those issues.

All this was very timely I thought given the launch last week of Raa Raa the Noisy Lion and our recent surveys about parents attitudes towards watching TV with their children. My son ended up being admitted to hospital overnight which meant that I got to watch the first episode of Raa Raa with him – and he loved it. We’ve watched each subsequent episode at least a further 3 times thanks to the BBC iPlayer so that’s at least one very happy viewer!

So, if you’re a parent of a young child and are wondering what to watch together or if you manage a children’s A&E department with a TV and are wondering what to show on it, may I suggest Raa Raa the Noisy Lion. It’s so much better than EastEnders - and far more realistic!

P.S. My son made a full recovery...

Monday, 9 May 2011

Check out what Essex are doing - Linda Rooney, Local Advisor

Here are just some of the activities and programmes being undertaken by Speech and Language Therapists, Early Years and Education colleagues around Essex.

- In Southend-on-Sea there has been a "Big Hello" event at the Thorpe Greenway school
- A supermarket treasure hunt is being organised for 31st May-3rd June
- A "Communication Champion Setting" Quality Mark event will be held on the 22nd June
- Look out for the "Speech on the Beach"event on 10th August
- In October there will be an event to highlight the monthly theme -"not just words" - exploring alternative and augmentative methods of communication.

The Early Years Specialist Teaching Team will be showcasing the impact from the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP), Speech, Language and Communication Needs, facilitated by their participation in the East Region cross Local Authority IDP Impact Projects 2010-2011.

Makaton " taster sessions" will be offered to childcare practitioners throughout 2011 and Makaton resources have been purchased for loan through the Early Years Library.

Multiple copies of the I CAN resources "Babbling Babies " and "Toddler Talk" have also been included in to the Early Years Resource Library for loan to all Early Years practitioners.

The area SENCO team is busy monitoring the relevant websites and is e-mailing copies of all relevant downloadable resources to all 650 pre-school settings in Essex as and when they come on line.

The pre-school team is planning conferences and workshops on the use of picture communication systems within pre-school settings.

The Early Years consultants will continue to promote the National Year throughout the summer with "Walk and Talk " materials utilising providers and festivals.

To round the year off, the Speech and Language Therapists and Early Years Team will be devising "Seasonal Gifts" with a communication theme.

All great news for children and young people in Essex - working for a better quality of life.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Hello Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire - Linda Rooney, Local Advisor

Well, it’s one month now since I took myself out of retirement and stepped forward to have a go at doing something for children that need help with their speech, language and communication.

I have been busy in Essex, Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire, as a local regional advisor, asking people to take action for the National Year of Communication - Hello campaign. This is more than a national campaign - as with communication - it’s everybody’s business. It’s not a “top- down initiative - it’s about spreading the word and making change happen in local settings. So, I have been establishing networks between local practitioners, providing resources, offering advice, capturing good practice and sharing ideas.

And......there are some great things going on out there!

From a “Big Hello” event to “speech on the beach”; from the purchase and sharing of essential communication resources for practitioners to “walk and talk” activities in the park! From conferences to celebrate the National Year (including the use of alternative and augmentative systems of communication) to the establishment of steering groups to ensure that the initiative is sustained - it is all happening in the region!!

So, hopefully, by the end of my placement I will have been able to help the Hello campaign be the national and local success it absolutely needs to be!!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Baby Blog 1 - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

As Director of The Communication Trust I’d like to think my commitment to the cause is pretty clear. However, I feel that I have gone above and beyond in demonstrating my commitment to the issue by conspiring to have my latest child on the 1 March – day one of Talk to Your Baby month and a key date in the National Year of Communication.

Do I talk to my baby? Of course. My first word was naturally ‘Hello’ and baby Joshua gets much input daily - from a terrible rendition of Twinkle Twinkle to long treatises on the state of the British media and the pros and cons of the Royal Wedding. We have just started baby signing (thank you to all those who sent us wonderful resources) and speaking to the baby was a factor in our pram choice (that and I liked the colour orange.)

We tick all the boxes for model parents (we even turn the TV off sometimes and we are not giving him a Nintendo DS until he is at least a year) and we encourage lots of talking time with grandparents and siblings.

But talking is the relatively easy bit. Maybe the month should have been titled ‘listen to your baby’ because, as the mother of two pre-teen girls as well as a new born, I think this is where the real challenge is.

From day one Joshua has communicated with us. The little piggy grunts from his first minutes as he tried to find dinner and the little whimpers of satisfaction when the search was successful – a pattern of noises repeated at every feed. The cry that means ‘wind me now and I am about to vomit on your shoulder’ is totally different to the command to ‘change my nappy’. And, reflecting the fact that sounds are not the only way to communicate, we have responded to his facial grimaces (many and varied) and his range of wiggles and hand shakes (lots of wiggling hands means 'watch out I am about to fill my nappy' and one arm above his ahead means 'I am doing my final pre sleep stretch').

All this and he is only six weeks old. So much to hear and to understand already.
As parents it is essential to be an effective listener. Not only does it avoid many problems from an early age - very messy giving Joshua a feed when he was making nappy changing signals - modelling good listening skills is key to helping our children develop their own ability to listen. I have always thought listening (and with it understanding) is the poor relation when considering speech and language ability. It is much harder to spot effective listening - everyone knows their child’s first word but few would recall the first word that their child heard and understood.

So – we are listening to Joshua carefully and doing all we can to help develop his own skills. Lots of reading, rhymes and different sounds against limited background noise to help him refine his listening and lots of fun listening games ( has some good ideas). I am watching like a hawk for evidence of his the first word that he hears and understands and we will celebrate this on a par with his first spoken word – anyone want to make a prediction as to what it might be?

Monday, 18 April 2011

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Well – you can actually! - Alison Marrs, Hello Advisor

So – this is my first blog....ever! When I started this post (March 7th) I told myself I was going to blog weekly. But I didn’t. It was on my list of things to do. I didn’t do it. I joined Twitter and Tweeted. I kept saying I was going to do a blog...and guess what? I didn’t.

I avoided it because I thought I didn’t know what I was doing, because I thought it would take up too much time, because I thought it was too late to start.

• I spoke to Robin at work about her blog and got inspired (heard other’s stories)
• I got sent the link to The Communication Trust’s blogs (had a template to follow)
• I had a meeting with colleagues on how to blog (information given)
• I heard about the aims of the blogs and how my viewpoint counts (given confidence and understanding of the aim)
• I blocked out the time in my diary to sit down and do this (organised myself!)
• I changed my attitude from ‘I can’t’ to ‘I can’ (no pun/plug intended there!) and from ‘It is too late’ to ‘Just do it!’

And? Well, I realised how easy it is to have something on your ‘to-do’ list and do nothing and yet every day I am asking people to take action for Hello.

So – I know what it is like! But if you can just make the time to have a look, then I have been so impressed by The Communication Trust and the Hello resources, which will save you time in the long run once you start using them. Look at the website This has it all – other’s stories/Hello event ideas, planning templates to use, information on the campaign and to share, a calendar to download to help with organising time!

I have crossed ‘blogging’ off my to-do list and it wasn’t even that painful!

Monday, 14 March 2011

80% less 100% delivery - Cara Evans, Operations Director

As some of you may have read, The Communication Trust has recently learned that we have funding for another two years. Happy days! Now the real work begins... We have 80% less funding than we had hoped for our national year programme of work – whilst on the face of it is the cut is disappointing, the reality is that it could have been far worse.

We have though secured more for our core programme of work than we have done over recent years, which means that the combination of funding for the two programmes is roughly the same as that which we received for the current financial year. This presents us with two challenges. Firstly, managing everyone’s expectations regarding the national year as we will not be making the huge media splash that many people were hoping for. That said, the level of local support that we are seeing is amazing - our recent regional events saw 600 local practitioners coming to share their ideas. What was even more amazing was that some of those that attended and contributed to the events didn't even know if they had jobs from April. Money can't buy that type of commitment.

Secondly, we need to continue to offer value for money whilst ensuring that we keep to our core principle of ensuring that our consortium partners receive the higher percent of our funding. This means everyone we work with needs to ensure that they offer the most cost effective service without affecting quality. This is a challenge indeed but one which the sector knows all too well how to overcome as it something it has always had to do. I have no doubt our partners will work with us to deliver an impactful programme of work with all the funding we have available.

One final point this. This is the first time since the Trust was founded that we have our funding agreed before we start the programme of work, which makes planning and budgeting that much easier! Here’s to an exciting year.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Seeing the wood through the trees - Eve Wagg, Programme Manager

The regional briefing events have now finished. Phew. In 2 months we transformed a seed of thought into an organised roadshow of 5 regional events to brief local ‘movers and shakers’ on how they can help execute Hello across the country.

Hello isn’t a top down initiative, we want to enthuse, support, guide and help local leads to spread the word and make change happen in their local settings. This way we can reach the most amount of children, parents and young people.

Now wise people often say there is no ‘I’ in Team. This is very true. Without an exceptionally hard working, committed and slightly mad team these events wouldn’t have happened. In brief we...
- Reached 592 practitioners across the country in 21 days
- Distributed over 6,100 Hello materials and many more from our consortium and sponsors
- Heard from 9 Local Authorities about their local initiatives
- Confirmed 102 communication leads
- Met with 127 representatives from a possible 152 top tier local authorities, along with many schools, colleges, universities and other individual settings.

This is not to mention the fun we had along the way. Other highlights included...
- Rating premier inns and conference sandwiches
- Tea and winegums
- Eating far too many Percy pigs on long train journeys
- Trying not to hit people with our banners as we squeezed onto the 5:42 to Leeds
- Completing the crossword
- Packing, unpacking, repacking hundreds and hundreds of cardboard boxes.

So thank you to everyone who attended, showed their support and helped out at these events. Now we can finally see the wood through the trees and start putting plans into practice. Not to mention catch up on some sleep.

If you would like to nominate yourself as your local communication lead please contact me at

Alternatively please email me if you can help... 9 across ‘Worried a new team's endlessly lousy (7) ’

Sunday, 9 January 2011

A ‘royal’ start to the National Year of Communication - Laura Smith, Media and Campaign Manager

This weekend I finally got to see the Kings Speech (out in cinemas now), which according to a steward at Shepherds Bush has been sold out across London in a way he ‘has never seen before’.

Considering the anticipation, vast amounts of publicity and perfect timing to the national year of communication, I was not disappointed.

In fact, I was hugely moved. Moved not only by the content of this film, which shows one man (who happens to be a King in waiting) and his journey to come to terms with his communication difficulties, but by seeing first hand the audience reaction to the film.

The Kings Speech shows how King George VI, who has a stammer, finds techniques to express himself with support from his speech therapist. You cringe at his humiliation, laugh out loud as his sense of humour, are touched by the support of his wife and are moved to tears when he finds his voice and ultimately respect from the people around him.

I could see the audience – from young to old and from a range of backgrounds – experiencing a ‘light bulb’ moment that many of us realised many moons ago. That if you find communication hard, you find life hard; that communication difficulties can affect anyone (even the Monarchy) and that this issue had then - as it does today - low levels of public recognition.

January’s theme for Hello – national year of communication is ‘Don’t take communication for granted’. We could not ask for a better way to start the year than with a film that captures the public interest and inspires the media to look at the impact of communication difficulties.

It provides a great platform for the cause – the more people who can go and see it and then blog, ‘tweet’ or facebook about it – the better. We are delighted that the British Stammering Association and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, in particular, are benefiting directly from the close association to the story.

A mass media opportunity like this film is a blessing. Happy New Year and Happy Hello!