Light touch scheme that identifies needs early

12th September 2008 at 01:00
Dot Bromley has been head of Murston Infants in Sittingbourne, Kent, for 21 years.

About one-third of her school's 134 pupils have speech and language difficulties, and standards on entry are well below national expectations. But by the time they leave in Year 2, these pupils have usually caught up.

Mrs Bromley does not rely on informal classroom observation to bring about this change. Instead, her teachers use Language Link, a computer-based assessment programme.

"It is a formal activity. All the children do the same one. They do sit down and it is a computer program," she said.

"On the other hand, it can also be viewed as just another classroom activity. Certainly the children see it that way.

"You might, over time, be able to identify for yourself what areas children are having difficulties with, but this programme is designed by speech therapists and is a quick way of identifying where children need further support."

MP John Bercow recently published his report into the needs of children with communication difficulties and praised such "light touch" schemes.

Julia Ritchie, a speech therapist and former government adviser, is one of the team who developed Language Link.

She said that such a screening programme not only helped children with obvious speech difficulties, but also those with milder problems that either would not be picked up or would see them put on a waiting list for a speech therapist, when targeted help in class was all they needed.

"What we're helping teachers do is adapt their linguistic input to the right level for the child," said Ms Ritchie.

"It is difficult through observation to pick up quickly how much language children do understand.

"It's really important that teachers pick up those children who are having significant difficulties in the first term because that sets the pattern for the rest of their schooling."

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