New guide gives communication and language skills a boost

21st October 2005 at 01:00
The NasenTES Book Awards were announced on the eve of the Special Needs Exhibition at the Business Design Centre in London. Martin Whittaker and Elaine Williams meet the authors of this year's award-winning titles

* Language for Learning across the Curriculum is published by Language for Learning, Worcestershire County Council and Wyre Forest Primary Care Trust, and costs pound;25. For information about the guide and the courses, tel: 01562 751866

Sue Hayden and Emma Jordan are quite a team - living proof of the potential of collaborative working among education support professionals. Sue, a local education authority specialist teacher in language and communication, and Emma, an NHS speech and language therapist, joined forces five years ago to develop courses and train staff in Worcestershire's schools to support children with communication and language difficulties.

Last year they decided to distil their combined expertise into a guide for supporting pupils at key stages 12 with language and communication difficulties. Now the resulting book - Language for Learning across the Curriculum - has won the NasenTES Special Educational Needs Book Awards in the category Books for Teaching and Learning.

Interviewed before they knew their book had won, the authors said they were surprised and delighted to even be in the running for an award: "We are recovering from the shock of being shortlisted," said Emma Jordan. "We didn't think we had any chance at all."

Sue Hayden said: "It's nice to know it's gone to a panel of people and they have looked at it and thought it worth shortlisting."

The authors are based at the Speech and Language Therapy Centre in Kidderminster. Sue is a specialist teacher with the Access and Inclusion Learning Support Service in Worcestershire education authority. Emma is a specialist speech and language therapist with Wyre Forest Primary Care Trust. They work together to support staff in schools across the county.

"It's not typical to have that kind of partnership as long-term as ours,"

said Sue. "And it's been good because we just happen to get on very, very well. It's been a really good working situation for us because we have very different skills, and we have brought very different perspectives together."

Language for Learning started as a DfES-funded project in 2000 to develop training and resources to support teachers, teaching assistants and parents of children with communication difficulties in mainstream schools. As the Government encouraged collaborative working between teachers and speech and language therapists, they found their training increasingly in demand. The Language for Learning project continues as a joint initiative between the health service and LEA. It has become completely self-funding from training fees and selling resources.

Their programmes include a range of courses, including training sessions for Sencos and day courses with outside speakers covering specialist areas.

They also offer accredited undergraduate and post-graduate training through the University of Worcester and fit the training in around the "day job" of supporting schools. They say that their work in schools and their training roles complement one another, informing their courses and keeping them fresh and relevant. Emma and Sue wrote the book in their summer holidays and it was published last autumn. It includes clear explanation of speech, language and communication difficulties and how to identify them, explaining the different types of difficulty.

There is also a guide to school-based assessment, sections on how to help pupils access the national curriculum, and strategies for use across the curriculum, as well as a useful glossary. One of their principal aims was to overcome communication difficulties between their own professions by cutting through the jargon. The guide's style is, therefore, in plain English, with colour codes and symbols to help teachers dip into it as a quick and easy reference.

Sue said: "In the past if a speech and language therapist wrote something for teachers, there was a huge gap between the language SLTs use and the language teachers use. We have been able to marry those two cultures and produce something that's user-friendly for both groups."

Emma added: "I think it's given people the language to talk about language skills. That was one of the aims - to give people a shared vocabulary so that we can all talk about the same skills."

What now? They are taking steps to secure the Language for Learning project's future, building on contracts with other education authorities to provide long-term training.

They are pleased with teachers' reaction to the book. Since Language for Learning was published it has sold more than 500 copies just by word of mouth. Kent education authority has bought the guides to put into its schools. "We have had fantastic feedback, especially from teachers, because we have included lots of references to the national curriculum," said Emma.

"I think that's made it much more real to class teachers.

"We wanted to produce something that would stand alone, that would give teachers and teaching assistants a really practical approach. Because often when you're a class teacher supporting a child with language difficulties, you don't know where to start. You haven't got time to do a six-week training course. The child is there now, or maybe you have a group of children with all sorts of communication difficulties in your classroom.

Teachers just want something that's very practical, that's very accessible, that they can just get going with straight away. You can just pick this up and dip in and out of it when you need to."

martin whittaker

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