The Norwich Opportunity Area was created to raise education standards locally, providing every child and young person in Norwich with the chance to reach their full potential in life [1].

The programme is focused on improving speech and language by supporting local schools and giving young people the information and support to move from education into work.“Our vision is to create a system where no child in Norwich is left behind”

In October 2017, the Norwich Opportunity Area published their delivery plan, setting out the goals it wanted to achieve. The plan outlined their priorities for improving the social mobility of young people in Norwich.

“Our vision is to create a system where no child in Norwich is left behind”

Tim Coulson, Chair, Norwich Opportunity Area [1]

The strategy was developed along three key themes:

  • Improving Early Years Communication – preventing the gap between outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and their peers that begins before they start school.
  • Inclusion – creating strong schools for every child by supporting strong leadership, great teaching, and helping schools to reduce exclusions through the Norwich Inclusion Charter.
  • Collaboration – linking children to life beyond school by working with local employers, the voluntary sector, parents, and communities, as well as national programmes such as the National Citizen Service and the Careers and Enterprise Company to ensure that schools are well supported to prepare young people for working life and adulthood.

The Problem

It was identified that the proportion of children achieving a Good Level of Development (GLD) in Norwich was low. Schools and other settings told Norwich Opportunity Area that pupils often have poor communication, social, and emotional skills at school entry.

The pandemic has made this even worse. Children have been deprived of opportunities for social development before they join school at age 5. This has had an impact on speech and language development for young children.

Unfortunately, there are long waiting lists for support from speech and language services and therapists. Children that are behind at age 5 often struggle to catch up. This means that the developmental progress that children make varies significantly.

Communication Champions

Addressing speech, language and communication needs in the early years can have a powerful impact on the health and wellbeing, educational progress, and future employability of children and young people.

The Communication Champions Network is a result of collaboration between local early years leaders and experts. It has the bold vision of creating a universal approach to improving early speech and language across a range of settings by empowering staff to become “Communications Champions”.

A Communication Champion is a member of staff in an early years setting that has a passion for developing children’s early speech and language skills. They may be a teacher, nursery assistant, childminder, or member of support staff.

Schools and early years settings that sign up to the Communication Champions Network can nominate 2-3 Communication Champions who receive comprehensive training to develop their own practice and to become leaders in their own setting.

Norwich Opportunity Area has invested in their Communication Champions by:

  • Providing quality training
  • Paying memberships for appropriate professional organisations
  • Offering the chance to achieve a level 2 or level 3 qualification in Early Speech and Language
  • Providing opportunities to complete an MA with an approved provider
  • Setting up network meetings and conferences across the Norwich Opportunity Area

So far…

  • 83 Communication Champions have been trained face-to-face
  • 32 Communication Champions have been trained virtually
  • 295 practitioners have accessed online Communication Champion training
  • Communication Champions have trained approximately 200 of their colleagues using cascade resources
  • They have provided accredited Elkan Training to 42 practitioners and funded MA qualifications for 7 practitioners

Communicaton Champions – Hubs

5 local Communication Hubs were created,  providing ‘centres of excellence in speech, language, and communication. They are a forum for professionals to regularly share expertise and for practitioners to engage in good practice discussion.

Half-termly meetings are organised by Hub leads to update Communication Champions on up-to-date best practices. It is a forum that allows people to discuss good practices and problem solve.

There is a focus on CPD in areas relevant to early speech, language, and communication development. Staff feedback from the Communication Champions training included:

“It made me think about the learning environment in the early years and how to improve it to make it more communication friendly and inviting for children”

“It raised my awareness of how speech and language impacts on every single school subject as well as the child’s self-confidence and social skills”

obtained the understanding, confidence and resource to promote speech, language and communication at a whole school level”

What was learned?

Norwich Opportunity Area has reported that practitioner confidence and expertise improved significantly in:

  • Identifying early speech, language, and communication needs
  • Supporting needs early with a range of approaches
  • Engaging with parents to support speech and language development tools at home

Best practice approaches have become embedded within:

  • Speech and language assessments
  • Whole school development plans reflecting speech and language needs
  • Quality interventions by all early years practitioners

Additionally, high quality and engaging practitioner CPD was valued by participants and school leaders. This has empowered local leaders and has given practitioners a focus to improve outcomes locally.

Impact

All class staff (nursery to year 6) have now received cascaded training provided by Communication Champions. This has led to the development of a universal level of skills and understanding.

The action plan of Norwich Opportunity Area has also had a positive impact on teaching and learning:

  • Schools have become communication-friendly environments: displays, reading areas, less noise, more light, less clutter
  • More communication friendly teaching and learning strategies: visual supports, modelling, extending services
  • Generally, improving provisions for all children through focused teaching

Overall, the Norwich Opportunity Area have been key in improving outcomes for children in the area. Specifically, the local speech and language inequalities for children in early years settings have been a focus.

The introduction of Community Champions has supported the incentive and the strategy is not only improving outcomes for children but is also offering practitioners the opportunities to develop professionally.

[1] Coulson, Tim. 2021. Chair, Norwich Opportunity Area

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The proportion of children achieving a Good Level of Development (GLD) in Norwich is low, with many children lacking adequate speech and language skills. This case study looks at the work of Norwich Opportunity Area towards improving outcomes for children in the local area.

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