In 2016, Norwich was ranked second-lowest in terms of social mobility in the country. To tackle this, Dr Tim Coulson, Independent Chair of the Norwich Opportunity Partnership Board set out their vision:

“To create a system where no child in Norwich is left behind” [1]

The problems facing Norwich were highlighted by the low proportion of children achieving a Good Level of Development (GLD) compared to the rest of the nation at the age of five.

Schools informed the partnership that pupils often had poor communication, social, and emotional skills upon school entry.

This problem is then exacerbated by the long waiting lists students are placed on to receive support from speech therapists and extra language services.

Children that are behind aged five, often struggle to catch up and the progress that children make varies significantly.

Communication Champions

A Communication Champion is a leader in empowering children and young people with the skills for their future. [1]

In the case of Norwich, trained Communication Champions were put in schools, nurseries, and early years settings to create a universal approach to improving speech and language.

The aim was not just to address the immediate need for people with these capabilities, but to create a legacy of trained practitioners who would continue to positively impact young learners’ development.

At the time of writing:

  • 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
  • 42 practitioners have received accredited Elklan Training
  • 7 practitioners have had their MA qualifications funded

In order to continue the professional development opportunities, five locally-led communication hubs have been developed, including a 0-2 years hub led by a nursery.

Another aim of the partnership is to create a sustainable legacy, with the hubs being designed to develop into centres of excellence in speech, language, and communication.

The hubs provide a forum for professionals to regularly share expertise and for practitioners to engage in good, productive discussions.

The locally-led hub model is also being laid out as the plan for the future response to speech, language, and communication needs.

They host half-termly meetings, organised by hub leads, helping to establish professional networks of early years practitioners and advisers, speech therapists, and other language experts.

Outcomes from the Hubs

There have been a number of positive results from the introduction of the hubs.

Practitioners have said their confidence and expertise has significantly improved in identifying early speech, language, and communication needs.

They have also improved their capacity for early interventions with a wide range of approaches that have increased confidence when engaging with parents and carers to deliver support at home.

The approaches used have also been embedded within schools, which has seen the introduction of speech, language, and communication needs assessments.

Schools have also incorporated these needs into their development plans for the future, as well as enabling high-quality interventions by all early years practitioners.

The widening network has proved a great resource for shared learning and collaboration.[1]

Reflections and Learnings

Overall, the high quality and engaging practitioner professional development programme was valued by those who participated with school leaders also benefitting.

By empowering local leaders and practitioners, there has been a real focus provided to improve outcomes locally, across the newly created networks.

There’s also huge importance placed on the time practitioners are able to spend together.

The capacity for those who have the expertise, or a willingness to gain expertise, to share and learn together has led to a solutions-based approach to improving young learners’ experience.

Mile Cross Primary School

One of the schools involved, Mile Cross Primary, has given extensive feedback on the impacts the programme has had on both staff and students.

Four staff members have been trained as Norwich Opportunity Area Communication Champions, three to leadership level. All class staff from nursery to year 6 have received cascaded training.

There is now a higher benchmark and universal level of skills and understanding among staff, which has been a key part of their ongoing continued professional development.

One teacher commented:

“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.”

The practical impact on teaching and learning has been:

  • Creating communication-friendly environments by increasing displays, reading areas, optimising lighting and decluttering
  • Creating more comprehensive strategies, including visual supports, better modelling, and extending sentences
  • Improving provisions and providing better support for all children
  • Impacting on Norwich’s GLD and narrowing the attainment gap

A Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) at the school said the training had given them:

“The understanding, confidence and resources to promote speech, language and communication at a whole school level.”


[1] Coulson, Tim. Chair, Norwich Opportunity Area Partnership Board, 2021. Case Study: Early Years Development – Strategies for Preventing and Closing Attainment Gaps

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In 2016, Norwich was ranked second-lowest in terms of social mobility in the country. In this case study we’ll explore the ongoing work to raise the level of four- and five-year old’s language acquisition in the Norwich Opportunity Area.

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