Friday, 14 December 2012

Children’s communication – what’s next?

The Trust's 2013-17 Strategy
We can all agree that the Hello campaign, the national year of communication 2011, was a success. More than 350,000 Hello resources were distributed and 72% of adults reported seeing Hello messages during the year. We also found that as more parents became aware of what good speech and language is, more began to report concerns about their children's speech, language and communication skills and to seek professional help and guidance. We also trialled three new ways of working to empower parents and the children’s workforce to help all children get more out of their speech, language and communication and to spot and support those who struggle in more effective ways.

For us, Hello as an awareness raising tool is over, but the issue of children with language delay or speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) has not gone away. We have been successful in influencing some areas of policy - getting Ofsted to include communication in their new inspection guidelines and the National Curriculum Review Panel to recommend its inclusion across the curriculum - but there's still more work to do.

Now we must make sure that the children's workforce - and by this we mean anyone who works with children and young people - is equipped with the skills, knowledge and confidence to know what good communication development is and to recognise and support children who are struggling.

In order to do this we will be taking forward one of our key strategic projects begun during the Hello campaign, Talk of the Town - a community-wide strategy for developing good communication in children and young people aged 0-19 through schools, early years settings, children's centres and families - and the Level 3 Award in Supporting Children and Young People's Speech, Language and Communication, developed by The Communication Trust with City & Guilds.

We know we face crucial challenges in our aim to make sure every child is understood because communication skills are so often overlooked and many children and young people's needs are often misinterpreted, misunderstood or missed altogether. Our strategy also allows us to continue to work with the youth justice sector where research has show there are high numbers of children and young people with unidentified SLCN.

The local landscape for delivering services is ever changing and our plan is to work with policy makers, local and national, to make sure children and young people get the best help and support they can.

You can join us on this journey by following us on Facebook and Twitter or by signing up to receive our monthly newsletter. For more information, click here.

Our five-year strategy is available here.

The Hello Evaluation can also be downloaded here.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

It’s a tough job... but someone has to do it!

Simone Gilson, from Pearson Assessment, wrote us this blog post after attending the Shine a Light Awards 2012 judging event

Applications for the Shine a Light Awards 2012 have now closed – big thanks to everyone who took the time to submit an application.

One judging panel hard at work
During the last three weeks we've been busy shortlisting the applications and last week we hosted the judges’ event, where the all important decisions were made. The quality of the applications meant it was a tough job!

This year we split our judges into three teams, each of whom was given the task of looking at a specific group of awards. Our expert panel for 2012 included some names you may recognise from last year: including Jack Marshall, winner of the Young Person of the Year Award 2012 and Janet Cooper, from Stoke Speaks Out, whose team not only won the Multi-Agency Team of the Year Award but also one of Pearson Assessment’s Outstanding Achievement Awards. In addition, we were delighted to welcome back Virginia Beardshaw, Chief Executive of I CAN, Chris Hall and Lesley Munro from Pearson Assessment, and introduce same new faces including the new Director of The Communication Trust, Anne Fox.

Supported by rounds of tea and biscuits, our judges met at the Pearson Headquarters on October 19th to choose the award winners and runners up. There were plenty of debates and opinions - luckily no fights - and in the end plenty of excitement over the final outcomes.

Jack Marshall, left, was last year's Young Person of the Year
 Lesley Munro described the process: "It was a privilege to be part of the judging panel and to learn about the excellent work being undertaken daily around speech, language and communication (SLC) in primary and secondary schools. There was evidence of whole school involvement and cross curricula embedding of SLC. Initiatives from Hello, the national year of communication, were also being taken up or expanded upon in many schools.

“Judging the Young Person of the Year award was a delight. The most difficult task was to select a winner from among these inspirational young people, who not only achieve their own goals, but also go beyond them to help others locally and nationally with communication challenges.”

We'll be keeping you in suspense a little longer as to who has won what as the winners won't be announced until our awards night on the 21st November!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Put down your pens, and pick up language

Trust Professional Director Wendy Lee talks about the benefits of schools taking part in No Pens Day Wednesday:

Tomorrow (October 10th), more than 1,100 schools across the country will be taking part in No Pens Day Wednesday. In other words they will be banned from writing anything down for the whole of the school day.

The Communication Trust first used this event in September 2011 as part of the Hello campaign – the national year of communication – to raise awareness of the benefits of good communication. We challenged schools across the country to spend a whole day without writing, making best use of their speech and language skills, and they responded fantastically!

We heard of schools arranging debates, talking homework and making podcasts as part of their lessons – one school even had the “pen police” patrolling and watching out for pens and pencils in action. It was a brilliant event for Hello and got people really thinking about how children benefit from having good speaking and listening skills. Though it was a fun event, there was a serious side - it highlighted that a focus on speaking and listening can be really challenging – and how much children can learn by not writing things down.

This year, No Pens Day Wednesday could be seen as even more important for schools. Communication is now a key component of the Ofsted framework; in how teaching enables communication skills and in how pupils develop these skills and apply them across the curriculum.

For the first time, there is a spotlight on communication as well as on literacy and numeracy – a significant step forward for those campaigning for the importance of speech, language and communication skills.

We know from evidence it is fundamental that children have good speech, language and communication (SLC) skills, and that poor SLC development can impact on other areas such as literacy, behaviour and overall attainment. The more we can do to boost children’s SLC development the better and we are keen to support schools with ideas and resources to build on the good practice they already have in place.

No Pens Day Wednesday is a great and enjoyable way to put the focus on spoken language as a way to support and enhance learning. We’re excited that over 1,100 schools have signed up and we’d urge as many other schools as possible to do the same. If you can’t join in on October 10th, just pick another day that works for your school – once you’re registered you’ll have access to all the lesson plans, assemblies and staff meeting briefings prepared by our experts. You can use these resources whenever you like, as part of normal school days or host a No Pens Day Wednesday once a term if you like.

Last year, curriculum expert Mick Waters recorded a short film, explaining why he was supporting No Pens Day Wednesday. He said: “I think No Pens Day is a great idea because if you think about the amount of time you use a pen, is all this time writing in school really preparing children for grown-up life? We could make life so exciting without pens.”

Watch Mick’s full film here

If you’re interested in signing up for No Pens Day Wednesday visit our website here for more information.

Want to keep up with the Trust's latest news? Click on the box on the right to subscribe to our blog.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Learn how to crack good communication, by Amy Harker, Development Officer

Wow... it’s nearly Cracking Communication Conference time again! We are delighted that our first conference was such a success and we've received some really positive feedback from delegates, particularly about our focus on emphasising communication as a central skill. We enjoyed holding our spring event in London, but as autumn approaches, we look forward to a trip to King’s House Conference Centre in Manchester to further our journey in placing communication at the heart of schools’ policy and practice.

Keeping the focus within the current school agenda, we really feel our second conference will support schools to enable all children to achieve their potential through better communication skills and will prepare school leaders for the inclusion of communication in the new Ofsted framework.

We are really excited to have secured such prominent speakers. As well as the Trust’s own notable Professional Director, Wendy Lee, the star-studded line up includes Anne Duffy, an Ofsted representative, and Geoff Lindsay from the Better Communication Research Programme. Their speeches will link together policy, evidence and practice and provide a noteworthy morning agenda.

But the afternoon line-up is not to be forgotten! School leaders can choose from eight practical workshops and we're delighted to have a range of practical advice and tools on offer. The sessions will give delegates the chance to consider a range of practical solutions, based on good practice and clear evidence for their own communities. Also - do make sure that you attend our exhibition, on offer throughout the day, to network and see resources first hand (I hear there might be some freebies!).

We know there are currently lots of ‘cracking’ conferences out there – but this is definitely the one to attend! To find out more information (including our special early bird rate) please click here.

We look forward to seeing you in Manchester!

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Shining a light on schools communication by Lynne Milford, Press Officer

Communication is very much a 'buzz topic' for schools, as national education policy places more and more emphasis on children having good speech, language and communication skills. In the coming months, we will see a lot of schools introducing communication-friendly activities.

But in some schools, good communication is already close to their heart and The Communication Trust and Pearson Assessment are keen to reward them through the Shine a Light Awards 2012. The awards are an opportunity to reward and share good practice, as well as raising awareness of good speech, language and communication.

There are two school categories in the Shine a Light 2012 awards - one for primary and one for secondary schools and colleges – as well as awards for Young Person of the Year, Communication Champion and ‘Innovation Award’ among others. Judges are looking for schools where speech, language and communication development is a priority and where children with SLCN are spotted early and supported. They're also looking for schools which involve parents and work in partnership with other agencies to support children's speech, language and communication.

Watercliffe Meadow School with Vanessa Feltz
 Last year Watercliffe Meadow Primary School in Sheffield scooped the 'Communication Friendly Award – Primary Schools', receiving praise from the judges for its aim of 'getting things right from the start'.

The school places such a high priority on involving parents that staff created a series of five workshops for all families to attend, which allowed the teachers to work with the parents and children together, as well as giving them learning to take home. The school day is also designed from the child’s point of view, with a quarter of the day spent in play situations so children can practise talking in a natural setting.

To read more about Watercliffe Meadow Primary School’s success, click here.

Tricia Lang and Marie Underwood from Preston Manor School
 Preston Manor School in Wembley won the ‘Communication Friendly Award - Secondary Schools’ after impressing judges with a project demonstrating joint-working between their Speech and Language Base and the Department of English. They targeted a group of Year 7 pupils and created opportunities to promote speaking and listening as part of the curriculum. The school also took the Hello campaign to its heart, using it as an inspiration, creating a ‘Year of Communication’ noticeboard so pupils and staff could see the ‘Focus of the Week’ and the materials available.

To read more about Preston Manor’s work, click here.

Now you’ve seen what we’re looking for - does your school place a similar emphasis on pupils developing good speech, language and communication skills? Have you created innovative practices which have shown good results with your pupils? If so, you could be eligible for the Shine a Light Awards 2012. You can download an application form here.

If you’re not a school, do not despair – we have a range of other categories, including Youth Justice Award, Communication Champion and a Commissioning Award. Check out the microsite for more information.

The closing date for applications has been extended to October 10th.

Good luck!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Keep raising the issue

Annette Brooke MP
Guest blogger Annette Brooke MP (Mid Dorset and North Poole) tells us why she continues to fight on in the hope of getting better services and support for children with speech, language and communication needs and their families. She is a keen supporter of the speech and language issue, and helped The Communication Trust during the Hello campaign, the national year of communication, in 2011.

“I recently asked Sarah Teather, the former Minister of State for Children and Families, an oral question in Parliament on what more the Government can do to give better support to children with disabilities, including speech and language difficulties, through child care and in early learning centres. Sarah highlighted the publication of the draft provisions for special educational needs, which she hoped would go into the Bill next year. She said: “We are particularly looking at extending down the support and protection offered for children in the school system so that nought to fives get similar support.” She also pointed out that in the specific guidance to local authorities they highlighted the issue of making sure that they should provide more information for parents who have a disabled child.

The reason that I asked this question was my ongoing concern that, despite the campaign for ‘Every Disabled Child Matters’ and the work on speech and language difficulties following the Bercow Report – including the Hello campaign, the national year of communication run by The Communication Trust, I still find that more support is needed for children at preschool and nursery. Many years ago, I visited a nursery in Brighton which was offering mainstream provision but within this a specialist unit for children from across the town with speech and language difficulties. I was so impressed, but despite my enthusiastic local lobbying, there is no such specialist provision in Poole, Dorset. I want all children to have the best possible support without having to travel a long distance. With the prospect of new legislation for children with SEN, it seems appropriate to make sure that the calls for better approaches and provision are well and truly heard. We know that appropriate early intervention can make a lifetime’s difference for a child and we must grasp the opportunities that will arise with this legislation.

Since asking my question, there have been ministerial changes and so there is more to do right now. I welcome the joint commissioning of services, the introduction of Education, Health and Care Plans and a local offer to parents of children with SEN, including those with SCLN. We must make sure we stay on this track and also be ambitious about the outcomes we need, for example, reduced waiting times and better access to specialist support such as education psychologists, speech and language therapists.

My question didn’t get the full answer I would have liked but from past experience it is so important to keep going and raising the issues, over and over again!”

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Setting a good communication habit early on – by Press Officer Lynne Milford

UEA Nursery representatives with Vanessa Feltz
We all know that good communication is vital at any age, but the sooner children can get into the 'communication habit' the better. It is also very important that children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are identified early so they can receive help and support.

Quality early years provision with an emphasis on nurturing good communication in nurseries, childminders, play groups or Children’s Centres is key. This is why we are once again looking to honour the Early Years Setting of the Year in our Shine a Light Awards 2012.

Last year, the winner was the University of East Anglia Nursery. They were praised by the judges for carrying out termly assessments of the children’s development and highlighting any children who were struggling. The nursery also uses play plans to develop specific activities and encourage the children to talk more and expand their vocabulary.

‘Story Sacks’ are taken home by parents to promote speaking and listening at home and they also provide informal parents’ open evenings for staff to interact and share information.

Staff at the nursery said: “Since winning the award we have been approached and visited by other professionals seeking advice. We were proud to be able to mention our award during our OFSTED inspection in January, when we received “Outstanding” across the board. The Vice Chancellor of the University took the time to write to the nursery, congratulating us on our achievement. All staff are extremely proud that their hard work has been recognised and it has been a real boost.”

For more information read the UEA Nursery case study here

This year, the judges are again looking for early years settings which are working hard to promote and support children’s communication. This could be:

• Prioritising speech, language and communication development in all children

• Making sure children with SLCN are quickly identified and supported

• Involving parents in supporting children to develop good speech, language and communication

• Working in partnership with other professionals and agencies to support better communication development

• Providing evidence of the impact they have made on children by changing their practices

• Investing in their staff training and development to promote excellent practice.

So, do you think you’ve got what it takes to be Early Years Setting of the Year?

We’d love to hear from you about your work and how you support children to improve their speech, language and communication. Log onto to download an application form and good luck!

  • If you’d like to help us promote this category to others, you can download our eCommunications Toolkit here It has lots of hints and tips to make the most of your social media and email networks.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Silent Voices: Listening to Young People with Selective Mutism

Guest post by Victoria Roe, (B. Phil. Ed., MA) Vice-Chair of SMIRA (Selective Mutism Information and Research Association)

Victoria Roe
How can I listen to the experiences of young people with Selective Mutism, when they are unable to speak to strangers? That was the problem I faced in doing research for an MA at the University of Leicester in 2010.
Children with Selective Mutism (SM) speak confidently in some situations, but remain silent in others, usually outside the home. SM often starts in early chiIdhood, but, if left untreated, may persist into adulthood. I have worked with such children as a Primary teacher since 1979 and devised a programme to help them.

Although there had been quite a lot of research into SM, none of it provided accounts from those affected about what it was like to have SM and how they communicated when they could not speak.

Since interviews were not feasible, I devised a questionnaire, which allowed the young people to provide answers by selecting options and writing statements in their own words. Thirty youngsters aged 10-18 from the SMIRA membership took part, which was a good-sized sample for SM research.

The results confirmed the findings of other research, but also added new evidence about where and with whom the youngsters were able to speak and what helped or hindered their communication. Their personality profiles were positive, sensitive and caring, more than quiet and anxious.

Uniquely, the findings revealed the pain, isolation, frustration, courage and determination of the youngsters, the limiting effects of SM upon their lives and their communication strategies, including the use of electronic devices.

Their message was that they do want to talk and are not being rude when remaining silent. Acceptance and understanding helped them overcome SM.

A summary of the findings was published in ‘Young Minds’ (Summer 2012) - to read article click here.

The full research paper is available on the British Education Index at:

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Shine a Light…one award that you do want to win… Mark Beagan, Business Development Manager

There are some awards that you dream about winning – an Oscar, Noble Peace Prize, Rear of the Year.

There are some that you’d rather not win – Britain’s Got Talent, your ‘BFH’, a Darwin Award.

There are even awards you’d much prefer it if someone else won, cue the annual ‘Foot in Mouth Award’ (see here for previous winners!)

Having been involved in launching the Shine a Light 2012 awards, hopefully I can convince you that winning a ‘Shine a Light’ Award is up there with the best of them. However don’t take my word for it, just ask some of the last year’s winners.

Ask Bhaimia Mariyam from Newham Community Health. Like many other NHS departments, times have been pretty tough lately.  In spite of the many challenges, however, Bhaimia and her colleagues have managed to create one of the best SLT Teams in the country. From their point of view, winning a 2011 Shine a Light Award has helped to significantly raise their profile and, just as importantly, boost staff morale. As Bhaimia pointed out, the food was also “delicious” at the awards ceremony!

For Jack Marshall, winning the Young Person of the Year represented something else. His award was an opportunity to highlight that young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) can and do achieve just like anyone else. He moved everyone to tears at the award ceremony last year when he said "just don’t give up trying".

The best thing about winning the Early Years Award for the Nursery at Norwich University was the response from parents. As the manager, Anne Meyer, explained, staff have received lots of positive feedback from parents, who are now even more aware now of the importance of their role in supporting communication skills.

The 2012 Shine a Light Awards has 11 categories and is now open for application. We know you’re out there doing amazing things to support children’s communication development. Please apply so that we can tell everyone else

I’ll leave you now with the immortal words of former England football manager, Steve McClaren, who said, “He (Wayne Rooney) is inexperienced, but he's experienced in terms of what he's been through.” Winner, 2007 Foot in Mouth Award.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Focus on phonics - Catherine Hillis, Programme Manager

On Monday 18th June, year 1 pupils across England will take the phonics screening check for the first time. If you haven’t already heard about it, this is a new statutory check consisting of 40 words that pupils read one-to-one with a teacher – you can find out more at  the Department of Education website.

The phonics screening check has not been without controversy, receiving criticism from a collation of education organisations, alongside the NUT and the NAHT.

Whatever your opinion of the check however, what's important to us here at the Trust is that children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) get the support that they need.

SLCN is the most common SEN identified by primary schools and is a feature of many other areas of SEN, such as hearing impairment, learning difficulties and autistic spectrum difficulties. Obviously, there are implications for many children with SLCN, many of whom may struggle with the check.

But help is at hand! This week the Trust published Communicating Phonics to support teachers delivering and interpreting the phonics screening test to children with SLCN. The guide will help teachers to deliver the test this June, but also has lots of useful tips and advice to support the overall literacy development of children with SLCN.

Communicating Phonics is available at  To make it as easy as possible for busy teachers and SLTs to find the information they need, you can either download the whole guide, the appropriate section, or information on an individual SLCN.

You can also download useful factsheets with key tips for different audiences including year1 teachers, reception teachers, parents of children with SLCN, those interested in literacy development, and those who just want the key principles.

And last but not least we need your help. We want every child with SLCN to have a positive experience of the check and the best support possible in their ongoing literacy development. So please do help us spread the word to as many schools as possible!

Monday, 14 May 2012

Talking is just the ticket

By Eve Wagg, Programme Manager for Talk of the Town
Girls at the Museum of Science and Industry

This weekend I went to a farm with my nephew Tom and I’m not sure who had more fun - me or him. We fed the pigs, learnt that goats are great swimmers (who knew?), and had a yummy cream tea at the local cafe. It got me thinking that we all love a trip or day out, whatever our age. 

A very similar experience happened at the Trust last week, when we were fortunate enough to be able to support a primary school in Wythenshawe to take children, joined by a parent, to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Not only was this the first time some of the children had gone to a museum but it was also the first time that parents were invited to join a school trip.

There was a real buzz across the day from the parents, children and staff. Parents were given a booklet that encouraged lots of interaction as children looked at exhibits. All the parents commented on the fun they had with their children and the staff were so delighted with the day that they are already planning another for next year.

This trip was funded by a much larger project called Talk of the Town which is a community led approach to supporting speech, language and communication in children from 0-19. It’s currently being piloted in a small part of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, with the support of the local community.  

As part of the project we’re looking at providing lots of opportunities for parents to engage in their child’s speech and language development as we know this is really important if they are to become confident communicators. 

We’re running lots of parent activities including volunteer-led projects offering training for parents and the local children’s centres are running increasingly popular ‘Stay and Play’ sessions and setting up new activities for families including ‘Babbling Babies’ sessions. We’re also working closely with the local museum teams to offer trips like last week’s. 

Museums offer a lot to talk about as there are things you see that you don’t come across every day. They are also usually free and offer free activity packs for children. But museums aren’t the only activities that offer great ways to support communication – simple things like putting a few minutes aside every day for talking together with no background noise; exploring new words as you come across them and praising good communication can all help. Lots more opportunities for encouraging conversation happen on outings and some ideas can be found in our Summer Talk pack here (

I don’t know about you but I’m already planning my next trip. I’m thinking about the new local park as I’m sure Tom will love feeding the ducks and I may just be able to have a go on the swings... 

To find out more about Talk of the Town, click here (   

Friday, 11 May 2012

Time to say farewell, but not goodbye

Anita Kerwin-Nye, outgoing director
It’s been a fantastic five years as Director of The Communication Trust. To say I am remarkably proud of the organisation and all those involved in our work is an understatement. 

We have been on an incredible journey which culminated in the Hello campaign (national year of communication) last year that reached 70% of UK adults (Metrika 2012) and disseminated 400,000 free resources to families and professionals

We have grown from a small consortium of just a few members to a strong 48-member consortium with vast skills and experience in the field of children’s speech, language and communication.

When I first came to the speech and language sector, parents were battling a system where their child’s speech, language and communication needs were regularly being misunderstood, misinterpreted and in the worst cases, just missed altogether. Now, thanks to our work and that of our partners, the situation is improved, although we still have a long way to go.

We have had a great number of supporters along the way. Not least I CAN, Afasic and BT who realised five years ago, in the wake of the Bercow Review, that no single organisation could reach the children’s workforce effectively. This led to the birth of the Trust and at its core is collaborating with others.

This served us well when we ran the Hello campaign in partnership with Jean Gross, formerly the Government’s Communication Champion for children, and we have extended our networks even further.

To all those people who has supported us since the Trust’s inception or new supporters that joined us through the national year of communication, I pass on my sincere thanks for all you have done – big or small.

As we put the finishing touches to The Communication Trust’s 5-years on Impact Report and Hello evaluation report, it feels like the right time for me to move on.

A strong strategy has been put in place for the next five years and this will be taken forward by the Trust’s very capable staff team. I am sure, like me, you will be keenly keeping an eye on the Trust as it continues to grow and take the issue of speech and language to more and more people.

In the coming months, the Trust will be launching a campaign to place communication at the heart of schools and disseminating best practice in the field of speech and language to the widest possible audience.

Exciting times ahead!

Because communication is everybody’s business, I will be taking it with me into my next ventures and continue championing the cause. So it’s not really goodbye from me, but farewell.

To keep in touch with Anita, you can follow her on Twitter here

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Working together

By Faith Cross, Attachment, Language and Communication Professional, Trainer for The Communication Trust

Faith Cross

I have trained Youth Offending Team staff in Hidden Communication Difficulties, across the country for over a year now. I have learned a great deal about how they support vulnerable children and young people. I have come to the conclusion that many YOT staffs have more knowledge, skills and strategies for working with children/young people with Hidden Communication Needs than some teaching staff in High Schools. This is not to discredit staff in schools - not enough support and training is provided to help teachers recognise the complex needs of some children and young people. More training and information regarding diverse and complex needs plus, understanding the implications of behaviours that are exhibited, will ensure some young people avoid a route in to the Youth Justice system. With shared knowledge of SLCN and Hidden Communication Needs, school staff/other agencies can prevent some pupils from becoming excluded, thereby increasing the opportunities for accessing vital services to support assessment, and provide appropriate interventions. Many youngsters either opt out or are excluded from the education system due to their “behaviour”. Behaviour is seen, but often not understood.

The Communication Trust training for Youth Offending Teams is good and needs to continue, but we need some joined up thinking. Training needs to be provided to a wider group eg Magistrates, the Police, plus all services working with Children, Young People and Families. We all need to be skilled, knowledgeable and consistent in our approach. When key messages are consistently given by Youth Workers, Health Practitioners, the Police, Court Officials, Teaching Staff etc - we can achieve a united front for the benefit of Children and Young People.

One practical solution I will promote is that Sentence Trouble training materials could be included in SENCO training. Liaison between SENCOs and their local YOT/Secure Children’s Estate is highly desirable to support young people’s transition back in to Education. High School staff and Key Stage 2 staff would benefit from viewing the film but also undertaking Day 1 of the YOT training (or the equivalent). There are numerous excellent resources and materials available to support SLCN – the YOT training materials provide another perspective.

I firmly believe that when working with children and young people, we need to support the development of their language and communication skills.

Contact Dave Mahon to give your support.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Streamlining our social media to offer better service

By Lynne Milford, Press Officer

The evaluation of Hello, the national year of communication, is almost complete and the campaign is practically wound up. We’ve already merged our websites to make sure all the information is contained in one easy-to-find place. All that remains is to streamline our social media.

At present we have a dedicated Facebook page and a Twitter feed for Hello and we’re delighted with the number of people who chose to follow the campaign through these channels. But now we plan to close these down and put out all our information through The Communication Trust’s own pages.

Rest assured all our latest news and information will continue to be sent out through our two remaining social media sites. There will also be more detailed articles posted on our blog so pop along and check out the content already on there. You can also choose to subscribe to the blog so you receive an email every time we post if you feel the content will be relevant to you. Click on the black box on the right hand side of the screen. The blog reflects the work of The Communication Trust as a whole, as well as other relevant stories in the news.

We hope you choose to continue following the Trust and keeping up with all our work and resources. If you would like to keep following us, please ‘like’ or ‘follow’ our pages at these links:



The Hello Facebook and Twitter pages will be closed on Friday June 1st, so you have plenty of time to find our other pages and keep up with news and events from the Trust.

We’re always keen to hear your feedback and we want to make these pages as user friendly as we possibly can, so please contact Press Officer Lynne Milford on if you have any comments.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Star Thrower - Guest slot, Diz Minnitt, Operational Manager, Milton Keynes Youth Offending Team

“A man was walking along the beach when he saw a girl picking up starfish and carefully throwing them into the sea. He called to her ‘Why are you throwing starfish into the sea?’. The girl paused and said ‘The tide is going out; if I don't throw them in they'll die.’ The man said ‘But there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!’

The girl listened politely, bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, beyond the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one!"

David felt like a permanent fixture in Court. By December 2010 he had been sentenced 13 times for 38 offences including burglary.

He had a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder and struggled in or truanted from his numerous schools despite a Statement of SEN. He had not had a speech and language therapy assessment so in 2009 the Youth Offending Team (YOT) arranged one. It identified David’s ‘severe language and comprehension difficulties’, particularly his inability to understand and use verbal information (essential for consequential thinking skills) which was at the level of a six year old.

Everything changed, the YOT worked differently with David and he made progress. The SLT Assessment was shared with his college, support was put in place, and David started and stayed on a motor mechanics course. His offending reduced so by Spring 2011 he had completed all his Court Orders.

However, David still had to appear in a Crown Court Trial for a burglary offence he had committed when he was fifteen years old. The defence solicitor was granted the use of an Intermediary to support David in the Trial.

David was found guilty and the Judge directed that the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) should address a custodial sentence of between 18 months and 4 years as the ‘only option’. However, the PSR included full details of the SLT Assessment and proposed to the Court a community sentence. This was the lynchpin in determining David’s immediate future.
David was sentenced to a community sentence of an 18-month Youth Rehabilitation Order allowing the effective work with him to continue, and he has fully complied. With the exception of a minor offence of possession of cannabis for which he received a Conditional Discharge David has not offended since December 2010.

The Speech and Language Assessment provided a turning point. David’s complex needs were recognised and better understood and the work to help him change his behaviour became effective. This change of approach by the YOT and education staff helped him to make the important move away from a pattern of persistent reoffending with its associated cost to the community and impact on victims, into training with the real potential for employment and a more positive offence-free future. Whilst locking David up would have been a defensible option given his history of offending, I am in little doubt, and the statistics bear this out, that the longer term financial cost and human cost to future victims would have far outweighed any short term gains.

It made a difference for that one.

Diz Minnitt is Operational Manager Milton Keynes Youth Offending Team (YOT)
Association of YOT Managers Speech and Language Lead

Friday, 27 April 2012

Are all young defendants offered a fair trial?

Penny Cooper

By Penny Cooper, a Barrister and Associate Dean at City University Law School

For many people, an appearance in court is a confusing blur of baffling procedures and jargon; for more than half of young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), I can only think it is akin to being tried in a court in a foreign language that you don’t understand. One young man Jack (not his real name) who was involved in last year’s civil disturbances, said he ‘didn’t have a clue what was going on and for guidance looked to his Mum, sitting in the visitors’ gallery. Needless to say the ‘non-verbals’ were not positive; his Mum was crying. When asked what would make a difference Jack said “It would help if they had, like, a person who could stand with you to help you understand” . What Jack doesn’t know is that there is a name for that person – an intermediary.

Unfortunately if Jack was permitted his ‘person’ to help him there are several hurdles to get over:

Hurdle one - there is no statute in force that guarantees an intermediary for a defendant, but judges have a responsibility to ensure that trials are fair - so you have to hope for wise judges.

Hurdle two - assuming the judge is wise and informed, there is no clear mechanism for ‘screening’ the defendant for speech, language and communication needs. Who and how do they check to see if the defendant needs an intermediary? This is why training the police and the lawyers about what to look for is so important.

Hurdle three - Even if a judge says that the defendant can have one, their lawyer will probably have difficulty finding someone with expertise to act as an intermediary. Registered Intermediaries have special training and accreditation so that they know how to work in the court system for the benefit of witnesses, but defendants have no way of getting a Registered Intermediary because the government hasn’t made the Ministry of Justice scheme available to defendants.

Even if the defendant’s lawyer does identify an intermediary there is no obvious source of funding. When people ask for funding, they can get told that legal aid won’t pay for it.

In the interests of justice and a fair trial, it is vital that the Government looks at the absence of Registered Intermediaries for defendants. With over half of young people in the courts with speech, language and communication needs, it could be that the majority of defendants would be eligible for an intermediary. However the price for not doing this is too high: defendants won’t be properly part of their own trial if their speech, language and communication needs are not being met. Crucially, there are profound implications in terms of accuracy of statements, a fair trial and the sentence imposed. A defendant is not guilty until found so by the court, after a fair trial. But are we offering a fair trial to young people with communication needs if we don’t support them to understand what people are saying to them and to ensure they get their story across?

Penny appears in a new film, organised by our Youth Justice team. Click here to view it

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Silence in court?

By Dave Mahon, Youth Justice Programme Manager
Dave Mahon

A few weeks ago we met Jason (not his real name) who had appeared in court recently. He had an acquired hearing impairment as a result of a virus. Put simply, he needed a hearing loop to enable him to participate in the court proceedings. Although it was requested ahead of time, on the day of proceedings the loop was broken and a replacement couldn’t be found. Jason was offered an adjournment , but after many months he didn’t want to wait any longer. If it meant a custodial sentence then so be it.

So the proceedings went ahead and passed Jason by in a blur. When sentenced, he walked to the wrong exit, assuming he was to be taken into custody. However, the judge had handed him a community sentence. Disoriented, he left via the front door where his sister explained what had happened. Who knows what else Jason may have missed or misinterpreted which potentially could have had serious implications?

Other young people we interviewed appeared similarly disconnected from the process. Some struggled with the language that was used. For example, one lad didn’t understand the word ‘remorse’. Others made a connection with the process, but only because they’d seen it happen ‘in films’ not because anyone had explained it to them.

A fair trial, regardless of the outcome of the case, means being able to interact and understand all procedures, whether you have a disability or not. That’s why we’re calling for urgent changes in the law so that defendants with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have the same rights as witnesses to an intermediary, who can support them to communicate with a police officer or judge.

This week The Communication Trust launches Sentence Trouble, a film produced to improve the skills and confidence of youth offending teams, lawyers, secure estate staff, magistrates and the police so they are able to recognise SLCN and reflect on their own communication skills.
To watch the Sentence trouble film click here

Monday, 12 March 2012

Listening to children and young people with SLCN by Wendy Lee, Professional Director

It is fascinating talking to children and really listening to what they have to say. As a speech and language therapist, working with children with SLCN, you have to listen – all the time; to find out what makes children tick, the right way to approach support, to make sure it fits with their lives, their interests, their priorities...the list is endless.

Most importantly, children with SLCN often have lots to say – not necessarily about their impairment, but about themselves, their teachers, their lives, their friends, their choices. Listening to and valuing their views has huge implications for children’s confidence and attitude to learning.

Recently, I have been very lucky to be involved in a project, set up by Professors Sue Roulstone and Sharynne McLeod. Their vision was to write a book on listening to children with SLCN. They gathered together a group people from different fields, different sectors and with different roles and perspectives, but all with a common bond. We were all interested in children and young people, some were focused on speech, language and communication needs and all were interested in best ways to hear children’s views. We were given an opportunity to share elements of our work; with fascinating insight from the academic’s perspective across different theoretical fields, the practical perspective of working with children with SLCN, thoughts from Afasic’s Linda Lascelles about the parent perspective and from the ever inspiring Abigail Beverly – an artist and textile designer who also has SLCN.

Sue and Sharynne saw that a book to capture this myriad of perspectives through a common goal would be a useful addition to information for people working with children with SLCN. We were asked whether we were able and willing to contribute, with the idea that the book would aim to have both theoretical and academic perspectives alongside practical examples. We were all asked to write our elements of the book, with Sue and Sharynne pulling together into one coherent text - an unenviable task with so many contributors.

We know listening to children with SLCN can create challenges for adults – it can be hard to properly listen to them, to make sure their choices are real choices, to ensure they understand and can be understood. We know there are inherent difficulties in enabling children with SLCN to participate and contribute in the same way as their peers and we know from research that communication difficulties are frequently given as the reason why disabled children are not consulted. In fact, some cases the views of children with communication difficulties are often ignored.

The book, recently published, aims to go some way in overcoming these issues and giving anyone working with children with SLCN the insight into why it is so important and what can work....

For more information about the book, visit

To order a copy, visit the publisher’s website

Friday, 24 February 2012

The Toddler Testing Debate - Wendy Lee, Professional Director

There was a piece in The Times earlier in the week describing how a test done in the US with toddlers could predict problems in literacy. As a speech and language therapist, my reaction is – well of course it does!

In my gut I know this to be true, though we also have research evidence of the importance of vocabulary and of language levels in young children being predictors of how children manage at school.

But we do get very worried when we hear the word ‘testing’ and ‘toddlers’ in the same sentence - and understandably so. Recently we saw headlines expressing concerns about the testing of toddlers as part of the new Early Years Foundation Stage and Healthy Child Programme.

I guess we imagine the worst, rows of babies and toddlers being put through their paces to spot those who don’t quite make the grade. No one wants that.

I would be the first to argue against ‘hot housing’ children, taking away their childhood, not allowing them to play, have fun and be individuals and pushing them into formal teaching but this is not about testing in that way.

This is about knowing that language and communication is important to us all! As parents, we want our children to be good at talking. We value communication.

As professionals, we know communication is more than just talking. It is the vehicle for learning, it is the flip side of reading and writing, it is necessary to regulate our behavior, to organise our thinking, to build relationships and to work and live with others.

I’ve worked as a speech and language therapist for more years than I would care to admit. I have met every kind of teacher, parent and professional – those who are desperately worried that their child cannot say ‘r’ at age 4 (this is fine) and those who are OK with the fact their child can’t put 3 words together at 4 (this is not fine – and no, he won’t just catch up, though many will quote exceptions to the rule – Einstein for example).

I have also seen what happens when children with poor language are not picked up early. Some children with potential to catch up don’t, others who have long term language needs end up misunderstood or misdiagnosed. I have shared frustration with parents and colleagues, working with older children seen as ‘low ability’ with poor reading, poor behavior, no confidence… knowing had they been picked up at age two or three, life would look and feel very different.

Surely, we want to avoid this scenario. We can ‘test’ children when they are young; it can be fun, it just looks like playing – or at least that is how children and many parents see it!

We can pick out those children who, with support at the right time, can catch up. We can also pick up those with longer term needs who can be understood by adults that work with them, so they can be supported to learn and progress in the best way to suit their needs.