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Speech, Language and Communication Development in Key Stage 1

by Kirstie Page on August 16

The need to understand more about speech, language and communication development and making this a core focus of CPD is frequently discussed within the Early Years. As we move to work in Key Stage 1, the focus on this essential area of development often lessens. Shifting our focus away from speech, language and communication skills as we begin to focus more on formal learning, literacy, maths and knowledge is a false economy.

For all children, there is still a great need for us to understand more about speech, language and communication development. Although, for many children, the basic skills are in place as they leave the EYFS, they still have so much to learn. To name just a few, narrative, negotiation and the language skills surrounding problem solving need to develop way beyond the basic level of skill which will have been established by the age of 5. Non-literal understanding, allowing children to understand and then use humour, sarcasm and metaphors, also develops within this next phase of Education.

Understanding more about the speech, language and communication skills children still need to develop between the ages of 5 and 7, can allow us to think specifically about the opportunities we create for our children. These opportunities could be created within the learning environment, our planning and the games we play. For example, if we are making some play-based learning available to children within our learning environment, we can make more informed decisions about what we add to the environment and how we might evolve the opportunities over time. This is because we have a greater understanding of the correlation between the purpose of the opportunities we make available and the skills we are wanting to facilitate in our children.

Although understanding more about this crucial area of child development has applications for all children aged 5-7, it becomes even more important when a child presents with skill gaps. Many children leaving the EYFS will continue to present with some or all areas of speech, language and communication at an earlier stage of development than would be expected for their age. This is known as delayed development. The more we know, the easier it is to establish which area or areas of a particular child’s development are delayed and which are not. Even more essentially, understanding more about the order of speech, language and communication development, allows us to establish what a child can do, moving away from just describing what they cannot. It is from the child’s level of success that we must work from as we set next steps and facilitate progression.

Developmental Language Disorder can be easily missed within the EYFS and it is often between the ages of 5 and 7 that children with disordered patterns of language development begin to stand out a bit more. As the other children’s higher-level skills develop, especially with social communication, inference, prediction and non-literal understanding, it becomes apparent that these skills are not as automatic for some children. It is essential that, if we work in this age bracket, we know more about this so that we can spot Developmental Language Disorder and not confuse a child’s issues with behaviour, lack of listening or rudeness. As our expectations with reading comprehension, problem solving and creative writing rise quite quickly and significantly, it is essential that we understand the impact that disordered patterns of development may have. Understanding pragmatic development/social communication is essential if we want to know how to support a child who is not mixing with or struggling to socially engage with the other children. Pragmatic issues are often the core root issue, with many children struggling with Personal, Social and Emotional Learning.

Understanding more about speech, language and communication development links in very strongly with Ofsted’s agenda with, as they term it, ‘The lowest 20%.’ It becomes very difficult to decide and talk about what this group of children need if we do not understand more about child development and what the barriers to learning and progression are for this group of individuals. Building a Skill Profile for children who are causing us concern and who need and deserve a little more thought is often the best place to start. From this point, we can then think about what each child needs and decide how we might achieve that.

At this point, our thoughts often turn to interventions alongside some Quality First Teaching Strategies. More often than not though, we will reach for isolated Intervention Programmes or follow a pattern of giving these children more of that same, but simply in smaller groups.

Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with Intervention Programmes, it is essential that we understand what the gaps are that need closing. Otherwise, we are trying to fix a problem that we haven’t understood ourselves. We also need to think about what we do outside of that Intervention Programme. How can we support closing the gap within our interactions, within the opportunities we create within our learning environment, etc?

Understanding more can also help us to understand that more of the same, is not always the best way to ensure progression. For example, visual discrimination issues will impact on a child’s ability to retain graphemes, especially similar, confusable ones or to move on to di- and trigraphs. Issues with sequential auditory memory are often the root cause of children not being able to blend. Although a strong and consistent SSP is crucial, we will be much more effective if, alongside, we identify and tackle these barriers rather than ignoring them. Not only is this more likely to facilitate progression, but it is also a fairer and more empowering approach to take when children are finding things tricky, no matter how many times you repeat the same thing.

Issues with auditory memory and sequential auditory memory may also be the hidden reasons why a child can’t hold a sentence, remember what to do when they get to the table, struggle with problem solving and reading comprehension. Issues with semantic development/vocabulary skills may also be the hidden reason why certain children struggle with inference, prediction, generating ideas of things to write about and why they still tend to take everything that is said or read literally. Understanding more about the links between these core skills and the things we are trying to teach and ensure progression with can make things a lot less frustrating when a child can’t do something. Most importantly, it allows us to understand why this might be the case and what we need to do about it.

Knowing more about the specific nature of different children’s skill gaps and the incremental skills that need to be facilitated to close the gaps, will allow us to think about the exact Quality First Teaching Strategies we need to put in place for different children. It also allows us to begin to embed interventions into our interactions, our planning, the learning environment and the speaking & listening games we choose to play. This means that ‘interventions’ become more frequent, are less labour intensive, more sustainable and are woven into what the child is learning and communicating about already. Often, we turn to isolated Intervention Programmes as they seem easier, particularly when we don’t have the knowledge or confidence to embed our own.

Understanding more about speech, language and communication development can also really support us when we need to work with Outside Agencies. Deciding which children need referring elsewhere is greatly supported the more we know. The extent of the mismatch between a child’s stage of development and their age, along with disordered patterns of development would be the main factors that would indicate that a referral might be needed. Understanding more about this area of development also allows us to avoid over referring as we begin to feel more confident about these decisions and being able to set next steps for children ourselves.

Multidisciplinary working also becomes more two-way, the more we understand about speech, language and communication development. It allows our referrals and reports to contain more specific detail and offers clarity to our thoughts about what a child can do well and what they find more difficult. A greater level of knowledge also allows us to interpret reports from Speech and Language Therapists, Educational Psychologists, etc. Most fundamentally, it allows us to understand what their assessment findings mean to a child’s learning and what we need to put in place for that child.

To find out more, visit the Launchpad for Literacy website.



Kirstie Page

Kirstie qualified as a Speech and Language Therapist in 1996. After working in Mainstream Paediatrics, specialising in working with parents and carers and in the Early Years, Kirstie retrained as a teacher in 2004. She taught within KS1 and the EYFS, before shifting her focus to the training and support of other practitioners, whilst continuing to work ‘hands-on’ within schools and settings. Launchpad for Literacy evolved from real-life issues and concerns in response to the needs of practitioners and children.