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Research report 2010-2011

Laura Halstead, a Speech and Language Therapist from Oxfordshire County Council has evaluated Spirals at a setting in Oxford.

Please note the full report can be obtained from Emailing us on  Spiralstraining@hotmail.com

Evaluation of Spirals Project

September 2010 – July 2011

Laura Halstead – Speech and Language Therapist

Background

Setting for the project

Background

Setting for the project

This project was funded and run by the Leys Children’s Centre and took place across four educational settings in Blackbird Leys.  These settings were Windale Primary School, Orchard Meadow Primary School, Pegasus Primary School and St John Fisher Primary School.  This is the second year that Spirals has been run across Blackbird Leys. The Cooperative Nursery in Blackbird Leys used the model and training from last year to continue Spirals independently in their setting.

Blackbird Leys is one of the largest council estates in Europe.  Parts of Blackbird Leys, Greater Leys, Littlemore, Rose Hill, Barton and the City centre are considered to be amongst the 20% most deprived areas in England The figures for children living in poverty are 31-57% in this area.  The EYFSP full child collection 2009 data shows that much lower numbers of children living on the Leys achieved 6 or more points in the Foundation Stage Profile than in other areas of Oxford.  One of the main aims of the Children’s Centre is to narrow this attainment gap and to improve FSP outcomes for children aged 0-5 in Blackbird Leys.

These facts and figures about communication and poverty are also part of the backdrop to this project.

l  Vocabulary at age 5 is the best predictor of whether children who experience social deprivation in childhood escape poverty in later adult life

l  60% of young people in young offenders institutions have communication difficulties

l  40% of 7-14 year olds referred to child psychiatric services had a language impairment that had never been detected

l  2/3 of 7-14 year olds with serious behaviour problems have a language impairment

The map shows (in red) the areas considered to be within the top 20% most deprived in England.

.Aims

The overall aim of the project was to improve the speech and language skills of the participants.

The project also aimed to raise the profile of the Children’s Centre within the local community, encouraging families to access other Children’s Centre services.

The Spirals project aimed to provide Children’s Centre input to a greater number of families in a wider variety of settings.

Another aim was to identify children who may need more specialist speech and language therapy input and to make timely and appropriate referrals in this case.

These aims fit in with the aims of Every Child Matters http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/ in the following areas.

  • Enjoy and achieve – To improve the speech and language skills of the participants.
  • Achieve economic wellbeing – To improve attainment and confidence for the participants.
  • Make a positive contribution – To improve the participants’ self esteem.

Following the success of last year’s parent workshops, it seemed extremely important to extend the project again this year to involve parents and carers.  Therefore, a final aim was to involve parents in their child’s communication development.

The Spirals Language Program

The programme used for the sessions was

Spirals Language Development – Circle time sessions to improve communication skills. Marion Nash with Jackie Lowe and Tracey Palmer.

This particular package was chosen for many reasons.  Firstly, the small group provides safety and security for children with low levels of confidence.  The pace and complexity of the language used in this programme are well suited to children with difficulties with listening or understanding language because it is slow and simple.  Children are given more time to process and respond than would be possible in a whole-class environment.  The sessions are based on positivity, praise and success; ensuring that children feel supported to try out new skills and feel recognised when they have achieved something new.  The sessions are intended to be repeated so that enough time is spent on each concept for every child to have grasped it before the group moves on.  The sessions use a variety of learning methods and cover a variety of skills; including language, listening, attention, social, thinking skills and confidence.  Most of all, the sessions are fun and interactive so the children enjoy participating.

Each weekly session lasts between 20 – 30 minutes and consists of approximately six activities.  Ideally, each session should involve six children and be run by two adults in a quiet room with few distractions.  The sessions are similar each week, creating a familiar structure for children to feel comfortable within.

The sessions were carried out by Laura Halstead, Speech and Language Therapist for the Leys Children’s Centre and by Teresa Fieldwick, Children’s Centre Link Worker for Orchard Meadow School.  Teaching Assistants and Volunteers assisted the sessions.

Outcome measures

To measure the impact of this project, a number of outcome measures were used in order to gain as many different perspectives as possible.  This year, formal speech and language therapy assessments were carried out on 67 out of the 95 children who participated in the project.  Various reasons that meant that children were not assessed included; absence from school and refusal to participate either for pre or post assessments.

The RAPT (Renfrew Action Picture Test) assessment was used to assess the expressive language skills of each child, pre and post intervention.  This assessment gives two scores; one for the amount of information a child can give about a picture and one for the grammar that the child is able to use in a sentence.  The scores are calculated as an age-equivalent.  The lowest age bracket possible is 3:6-3:11, therefore the test cannot be more specific about language skills below the age of 3:6.

The CELF (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals) assessment was used to assess the comprehension level of each child pre and post intervention.  Only two subtests were used as the assessment is very long.  The subtests used were ‘sentence structures’ and ‘basic concepts’ as these were deemed areas that may have been improved following Spirals input.  These scores were also calculated as an age-equivalent with the lowest score being 3:0.

The teachers were asked to complete the Spirals checklist (published in the Spirals Program), which asks for their comments on each child’s thinking, language, social, listening and classroom skills pre and post intervention.

Parents were given the opportunity to comment on their child’s abilities during the parent workshops.

Some children were asked to comment on their experiences of Spirals post intervention.

Participants

The 95 participants were chosen in collaboration with the Teachers and leaders of the settings.  The participants were aged between 3 and 5 years old.

25% of the participants were known to the Speech and Language Therapy Service at the start of the project.  The other children were chosen for a number of reasons, including low levels of confidence with talking, learning English as an additional language, poor language skills, poor speech skills, poor attention, listening and turn-taking skills.

The participants included children from a range of ethnic origins.

35% of the children were learning English as either a second or third language.

Many of the settings had identified that these children would benefit from participation in a small group, but were unable to offer this themselves due to staffing, time or space constraints.

Logistics

Each setting was approached by the Children’s Centre to offer the service.  As these settings had been receiving support to run Spirals groups since 2009, they were all keen to continue.  Teachers, Teaching Assistants and Children’s Centre staff helped to get permission slips and registration forms filled in.  A letter was sent to parents to explain the details of the project.  Laura Halstead then attended each setting on a weekly basis to carry out the groups.

For the Spirals Parent Workshops, an invite was sent out to the parents or carers of each child.  The invite explained the workshop and asked that an adult attend to support their child.  It was suggested that if a parent couldn’t attend, an Aunt, Uncle or Grandparent could attend instead.  The staff in the schools were very supportive and promoted the workshops to the parents and carers.  The Spirals workshop consisted of a fun activity in which the parent worked with their child to make a language game that could be played at home.  The parents then had an opportunity to observe or participate in a live example of a Spirals group.  Time was given for questions and evaluation and an ‘Ideas for home learning’ sheet was given to each parent, suggesting simple methods for extending their child’s speaking, listening and understanding by using everyday situations and objects.  The workshops took place in the schools and were run by Laura Halstead and supported by a teaching assistant or member of school staff.

English as an additional language

Children who are learning English as an additional language should not, traditionally, have assessment scores quoted if they have not been assessed in their first language.  However, it was not possible to assess these children in their own languages, so, due to the fact that they are in settings where they are expected to function in English and as the data is being used to compare them to themselves and their peers and not to give them a diagnosis of language delay/disorder, scores are quoted for EAL children in this report.

Pre-assessment Data

Out of the 67 children assessed;

  • 50% of all children assessed were more than 12 months delayed for comprehension (41% post)
  • 88% were more than 6 months delayed for comprehension.
  • only 17% were within normal limits for their age for comprehension (50% post)
  • 21% of all children assessed were more than 12 months delayed for expressive language (information and grammar scores combined). (21% post)
  • 48% were more than 6 months delayed for expressive language skills
  • 34% were within normal limits for their age for expressive language. (50% post)

These figures confirm that many children in Blackbird Leys are starting Nursery with pre-existing language difficulties.

Teacher checklists

The majority of children were rated poorly (1 or 2 out of 5) in more than one area (listening, confidence, thinking, language, social skills) by their Teacher in September 2010, indicating that difficulties in these areas rarely occur in isolation and so should be treated by a complete package such as Spirals.

Results

All the figures here are a result of the dedication and hard work of the staff in the Foundation Stages at each school as well as the added input of Spirals.  Teaching Assistants and other staff members who observe Spirals are able to transfer the principals and skills that they have learned in the group into the main classroom.  Collaborative working between Speech and Language Therapist and school staff is essential to these results.

General

44% of children made more than 8 months’ progress in 8 months for comprehension (see blue portion of pie chart).

43% made between one month and 8 months progress (see purple portion of pie chart).  This area includes some children who may have made more progress than the assessment was able to measure as it is only able to measure up to 8:0 years and 5:0 years for one subtest.  The children to whom this applies were chosen to participate due to low levels of confidence rather than suspected language difficulties.

13% made no statistically significant progress (see yellow portion of pie chart).  Children in this category may have made some progress in their raw scores but still scored below 3:0 and therefore not moved up a level.

49% of children made more than 8 months’ progress in 8 months for expressive language (see blue portion of pie chart).

38% made between one and eight months’ progress (see purple portion of pie chart).

13% made no statistically significant progress (see yellow portion of pie chart).  Some of these children made progress in their raw scores, but not enough to move into the band starting at 3:6.

So, nearly half of all Spirals children made more progress than would normally be expected over an 8 month period.

It must be noted that, for children with even mild speech and language difficulties, it would be unusual that they made the expected amount of progress in the allotted time.  The quote below goes some way to explaining why this is the case.

“Children with SLCN (Speech , Language and Communication Needs) are at a major disadvantage compared to

their peers in primary schools; they have to learn in an environment where the medium for learning is their major

weakness.”

(Speech, Language and Communication

Needs and Primary School-aged Children Ican talk series – issue 6.)

Therefore, it is impressive that so many children are making good amounts of progress (between 1 and 8 months) and even more impressive that a large number are making more progress than expected (over 8 months).

I CAN Talk Series – Issue 6

Dramatic

For expressive language, 21% made more than 18 months progress and 27% made more than 12 months progress.  This is considerably greater progress than is expected over an 8 month period.

For comprehension, 7% made over 18 months progress and 18.5% made over 12 months progress.  Again, this is impressive over 8 months.

One child made 26 months progress in comprehension.  He started Spirals 14 months delayed and, 8 months later, was scoring more highly than expected for his age.  A case study of this child is included as appendix 1.

Another child made 33 months progress in expressive language.  He started off with just over a 7 month delay and finished scoring what would be expected for a child just under 18 months older than him.

Closing the gap

One of the main aims of the Children’s Centre is to narrow the attainment gap and to improve FSP outcomes for children aged 0-5 in Blackbird Leys.  The table below shows some examples of where children have caught up following Spirals input.

1 = Number of children more than 12 months delayed for comprehension

2 = Number of children more than 6 months delayed for comprehension

3 = Number of children more than 12 months delayed for expressive language

4 = Number of children more than 6 months delayed for expressive language

The above graph shows that Spirals may be helping some children with greater levels of delay, especially more than a one year delay, to get closer to the expected level for their chronological age.  However, it is also clear that there are still a large number of children starting school with significant levels of difficulty with communication.  The Children’s Centre provides a wide variety of activities and services, as well as Spirals, to try to make a difference to these children; promoting good communication and interaction from birth.  These include baby massage, stay and play, creative play sessions, parenting groups and outreach work.  It is my experience that children from families who make regular use of these services from an early age do not need to attend Spirals once at Nursery unless there is an underlying disability or impairment.

Participation in Spirals may not have enabled every child to have done well enough to fall within normal limits for their age on the post-intervention assessment, but this does not mean that they haven’t made progress.  The figures below are for children who managed to make some headway into reducing their language delay.

43% of the participants finished Spirals ‘less delayed’ in comprehension than when they started.

48% of the participants finished Spirals ‘less delayed’ in expressive language than when they started.

All caught up

The table below shows the number of children who scored within normal limits or above for their age pre-Spirals (blue) and the number who scored within normal limits or above for their age post-Spirals (purple).

EAL children

9 children who are learning English as an additional language managed to score within normal limits for their age on either comprehension or expressive language post-Spirals without taking into account the EAL factor.  Spirals seems to be particularly useful for children learning English as an additional language.

No statistically significant progress

Only 7 children made no statistically significant progress.  This means that they made less than 6 months progress in expressive language and less than 2 months progress in comprehension.  86% of these children are those who are known to Speech and Language Therapy.  4 of them have Special Educational Needs.  2 of the children are under Speech and Language Therapy Services and are learning English as an additional language.

Although they made no statistically significant progress, all were rated as having made progress in the classroom, either in thinking, language, social, listening or confidence, by their Teacher.  The case study of Tom (appendix 2) is a good example of this.

Teacher Checklist information

Every Teacher was given a form to rate each child in the 5 areas of thinking, language, listening, social and confidence.  These were handed out in September 2010 and June 2011.  Forms were returned for 9 out of 13 groups.  Teachers were asked to give the child a score from 1-5 in each area, with 5 indicating no difficulties at all and 1 indicating that the child’s skills are extremely poor in that area.  Scores from September were compared to June to find out how much the child had improved.  Every child made progress in at least one area.  Exactly as the results from this analysis showed last year, the two areas in which children made the greatest improvement were language and confidence.

Parent Workshops

These are structured and fun sessions for parents and children to enjoy.  3 of the 4 schools were able to provide a space and a support person so that a workshop could run at their school.  Orchard Meadow were able to run their own workshops; planned jointly by Laura Halstead and Teresa Fieldwick (Children’s Centre Link Worker for Orchard Meadow School), but run by Teresa and another member of staff.

Overall, 24 families attended one of the parent workshops.  The average attendance across the 3 schools was 25%.  St. John Fisher School worked hard to ensure that 58% of the parents who were invited, attended.  Attendance at Pegasus School was 27%, which is much better than last year.  Staff reminded parents frequently leading up to the event and Laura went in to speak to the parents at dropping off/picking up time to introduce herself and explain the workshop more fully.

Every parent who attended said that they had found the workshop useful.  These are some of the comments they left on the evaluation sheet at the end of the workshop.

l  “It gave me (a Dad) a better understanding of what to play/to involve child and parent together.

l  “I would like one of these sessions per term”

l  “My child has learned how to play games with others”

l  “The workshop provided us as parents an insight into what happens every week and the opportunity to take ideas home”

l  “My child is more confident and has definitely excelled since attending Spirals”

l  “Spirals has helped my child to be more calm, he’s nicer to talk to and he’s learned to listen without arguing”

l  “He is learning to take turns and it is helping him with listening and sharing”

One parent suggested that there should be sheets to send home so that the parent can continue to teach the concept that was learnt in Spirals at home.  This idea will be implemented for next year as there is a published book of Spirals sheets exactly for this purpose, which is a supplement to the Spirals programme.

Spirals Data Feedback Session

On the 7th July 2011, various people connected to Spirals and the Children’s Centre were invited to come and see a presentation of the data and to join in with some discussion around the results.  This session included Early Years Advisory Teachers, Foundation Stage Coordinators, Children’s Centre Teachers, Head Teachers, the Head of the Leys Children’s Centre and the Area Service Manager for Children’s Centres in Central Oxford.

Laura Halstead presented the data and facilitated some discussion around the outcomes of the project and developments for the future.  Below are some of the discussion points.

l  Children are scoring more highly on expressive language assessments than on comprehension

Children will seem to be functioning at a higher level than they actually are.  Teachers may wrongly assume a level of     comprehension based on their expressive language.

We discussed the assessments and how the 2D assessment pictures might be too far removed from the 3D, hands-on, practical fashion in which children learn and understand concepts within a Spirals session.

l  Children are finding sentence structures difficult (not just EAL children)

Some of the most common errors were in understanding the sentences below.

-          She drank the milk before she ate the sandwich

-          The boy is being followed by his cat

-          Shouldn’t you wear your jacket?

-          The boy is not climbing

Teaching staff seemed to agree that they would rarely use these types of sentence structures with children, especially those with communication needs.  Although, all Teachers agreed that they use negatives and were surprised that children struggled with these.  Again, the style of the assessment was questioned and may be changed in future to measure comprehension in a way that does reflect the type of sentence children are hearing.

l  Children who start Spirals with little or no delay make big strides forwards

Spirals is designed to be universal.  Elements of Spirals could easily be incorporated into group times.  Some settings are already doing this and seeing the advantages.

Hopes and plans for the future

l  Settings to continue to support Spirals

It is expected that Laura Halstead will continue to run Spirals throughout 2011-2012 in all four schools included in the project this year.  Settings are asked to show their commitment to the project by providing a room, support person and by filling out the Teacher Checklists  at the start and end of the project.

l  More TAs to be trained up

TAs learn new skills from supporting with Spirals, which can be transferred into the classroom.  TAs also play a valuable role in pre-empting situations and dealing with behavioural issues during the session if necessary as they know the children best.  They can provide vital information about what a child’s strengths and needs are.  TAs can be used to repeat part or an entire session at another time during the week.

l  Form relationships with parents sooner and involve them more regularly

A theme that came out of the parent workshop evaluation and figures was that parents like to be involved and included as much as possible in their child’s learning.  The parents who attended the workshops generally either had a good relationship with Laura, or with the child’s Teacher or both.  Only those really confident or really well-supported parents came to the workshop having not met Laura before.  One parent wrote on the evaluation that she would have liked homework sheets; another said that she would have liked a workshop earlier in the year.

l  Baby Spirals to be used with younger groups in Children’s Centres

The Children’s Centre is hoping to become involved with the pilot of Marion Nash’s ‘Baby Spirals’, which is suitable for younger children and/or children with greater difficulties than those accessing Spirals presently.  This is very exciting.

l   Summer Spirals in the Children’s Centre during the holidays

This Summer (August 2011) there will be four sessions for parents and children to attend.  The principles of the sessions will be based on Spirals and other general Speech and Language Therapy advice.  Children who have attended Spirals throughout the year will be invited to attend with their parents.  The idea of these sessions is to build on parent’s skills in facilitating their child’s language and communication development and for children to continue to practice their skills during the six week break so that do not regress while they are away from their setting.

Changes for 2011-2012 based on feedback/results

  • Assessment measures will be changed to something that is able to say more accurately, the level a child’s skills are at if they are below 3:0 or 3:6.
  • The assessment should be able to account for children learning English as an additional language.
  • Schools are already using the BPVS (British Picture Vocabulary Scales) to measure a child’s vocabulary at the start and end of the school year.  This assessment also has EAL factored into it.  Given that vocabulary at age 5 is the best predictor of whether children who experience social deprivation in childhood escape poverty in later adult life, this seems like the best tool to use to measure impact.
  • If parents get involved with their child’s learning in Spirals, they could help to make the impact much greater, therefore, Laura will endeavour to build relationships with parents sooner by being around at drop-off and collection times, giving out home sheets to parents, putting on a workshop before the end of the school year and writing to parents more often to say how their child is getting on in Spirals.
  • There will be greater flexibility for children to move in an out of the groups as necessary this year.
  • Laura will be covering Orchard Meadow Nursery while Teresa covers Orchard Meadow foundation stage rather than duplicating sessions.
  • Laura will be offering one morning and one afternoon nursery group to St John Fisher school as well as one foundation group.
  • Shepherd’s Hill Preschool and Windale Nursery have requested to have groups in their settings, so there will be one group in each and one group in Foundation this year.
  • Pegasus groups will continue as per last year.
  • There may be a volunteer to help to run Spirals groups for one morning per week.  This would free up the Speech and Language Therapist to see more one-to-one children.

Evaluation of Spirals Project

September 2010 – July 2011

Laura Halstead – Speech and Language Therapist

Background

Setting for the project

This project was funded and run by the Leys Children’s Centre and took place across four educational settings in Blackbird Leys.  These settings were Windale Primary School, Orchard Meadow Primary School, Pegasus Primary School and St John Fisher Primary School.  This is the second year that Spirals has been run across Blackbird Leys. The Cooperative Nursery in Blackbird Leys used the model and training from last year to continue Spirals independently in their setting.

Blackbird Leys is one of the largest council estates in Europe.  Parts of Blackbird Leys, Greater Leys, Littlemore, Rose Hill, Barton and the City centre are considered to be amongst the 20% most deprived areas in England The figures for children living in poverty are 31-57% in this area.  The EYFSP full child collection 2009 data shows that much lower numbers of children living on the Leys achieved 6 or more points in the Foundation Stage Profile than in other areas of Oxford.  One of the main aims of the Children’s Centre is to narrow this attainment gap and to improve FSP outcomes for children aged 0-5 in Blackbird Leys.

These facts and figures about communication and poverty are also part of the backdrop to this project.

l  Vocabulary at age 5 is the best predictor of whether children who experience social deprivation in childhood escape poverty in later adult life

l  60% of young people in young offenders institutions have communication difficulties

l  40% of 7-14 year olds referred to child psychiatric services had a language impairment that had never been detected

l  2/3 of 7-14 year olds with serious behaviour problems have a language impairment

The map shows (in red) the areas considered to be within the top 20% most deprived in England.

.

Aims

The overall aim of the project was to improve the speech and language skills of the participants.

The project also aimed to raise the profile of the Children’s Centre within the local community, encouraging families to access other Children’s Centre services.

The Spirals project aimed to provide Children’s Centre input to a greater number of families in a wider variety of settings.

Another aim was to identify children who may need more specialist speech and language therapy input and to make timely and appropriate referrals in this case.

These aims fit in with the aims of Every Child Matters http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/everychildmatters/ in the following areas.

  • Enjoy and achieve – To improve the speech and language skills of the participants.
  • Achieve economic wellbeing – To improve attainment and confidence for the participants.
  • Make a positive contribution – To improve the participants’ self esteem.

Following the success of last year’s parent workshops, it seemed extremely important to extend the project again this year to involve parents and carers.  Therefore, a final aim was to involve parents in their child’s communication development.

The Spirals Language Program

The programme used for the sessions was

Spirals Language Development – Circle time sessions to improve communication skills. Marion Nash with Jackie Lowe and Tracey Palmer.

This particular package was chosen for many reasons.  Firstly, the small group provides safety and security for children with low levels of confidence.  The pace and complexity of the language used in this programme are well suited to children with difficulties with listening or understanding language because it is slow and simple.  Children are given more time to process and respond than would be possible in a whole-class environment.  The sessions are based on positivity, praise and success; ensuring that children feel supported to try out new skills and feel recognised when they have achieved something new.  The sessions are intended to be repeated so that enough time is spent on each concept for every child to have grasped it before the group moves on.  The sessions use a variety of learning methods and cover a variety of skills; including language, listening, attention, social, thinking skills and confidence.  Most of all, the sessions are fun and interactive so the children enjoy participating.

Each weekly session lasts between 20 – 30 minutes and consists of approximately six activities.  Ideally, each session should involve six children and be run by two adults in a quiet room with few distractions.  The sessions are similar each week, creating a familiar structure for children to feel comfortable within.

The sessions were carried out by Laura Halstead, Speech and Language Therapist for the Leys Children’s Centre and by Teresa Fieldwick, Children’s Centre Link Worker for Orchard Meadow School.  Teaching Assistants and Volunteers assisted the sessions.

Outcome measures

To measure the impact of this project, a number of outcome measures were used in order to gain as many different perspectives as possible.  This year, formal speech and language therapy assessments were carried out on 67 out of the 95 children who participated in the project.  Various reasons that meant that children were not assessed included; absence from school and refusal to participate either for pre or post assessments.

The RAPT (Renfrew Action Picture Test) assessment was used to assess the expressive language skills of each child, pre and post intervention.  This assessment gives two scores; one for the amount of information a child can give about a picture and one for the grammar that the child is able to use in a sentence.  The scores are calculated as an age-equivalent.  The lowest age bracket possible is 3:6-3:11, therefore the test cannot be more specific about language skills below the age of 3:6.

The CELF (Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals) assessment was used to assess the comprehension level of each child pre and post intervention.  Only two subtests were used as the assessment is very long.  The subtests used were ‘sentence structures’ and ‘basic concepts’ as these were deemed areas that may have been improved following Spirals input.  These scores were also calculated as an age-equivalent with the lowest score being 3:0.

The teachers were asked to complete the Spirals checklist (published in the Spirals Program), which asks for their comments on each child’s thinking, language, social, listening and classroom skills pre and post intervention.

Parents were given the opportunity to comment on their child’s abilities during the parent workshops.

Some children were asked to comment on their experiences of Spirals post intervention.

Participants

The 95 participants were chosen in collaboration with the Teachers and leaders of the settings.  The participants were aged between 3 and 5 years old.

25% of the participants were known to the Speech and Language Therapy Service at the start of the project.  The other children were chosen for a number of reasons, including low levels of confidence with talking, learning English as an additional language, poor language skills, poor speech skills, poor attention, listening and turn-taking skills.

The participants included children from a range of ethnic origins.

35% of the children were learning English as either a second or third language.

Many of the settings had identified that these children would benefit from participation in a small group, but were unable to offer this themselves due to staffing, time or space constraints.

Logistics

Each setting was approached by the Children’s Centre to offer the service.  As these settings had been receiving support to run Spirals groups since 2009, they were all keen to continue.  Teachers, Teaching Assistants and Children’s Centre staff helped to get permission slips and registration forms filled in.  A letter was sent to parents to explain the details of the project.  Laura Halstead then attended each setting on a weekly basis to carry out the groups.

For the Spirals Parent Workshops, an invite was sent out to the parents or carers of each child.  The invite explained the workshop and asked that an adult attend to support their child.  It was suggested that if a parent couldn’t attend, an Aunt, Uncle or Grandparent could attend instead.  The staff in the schools were very supportive and promoted the workshops to the parents and carers.  The Spirals workshop consisted of a fun activity in which the parent worked with their child to make a language game that could be played at home.  The parents then had an opportunity to observe or participate in a live example of a Spirals group.  Time was given for questions and evaluation and an ‘Ideas for home learning’ sheet was given to each parent, suggesting simple methods for extending their child’s speaking, listening and understanding by using everyday situations and objects.  The workshops took place in the schools and were run by Laura Halstead and supported by a teaching assistant or member of school staff.

English as an additional language

Children who are learning English as an additional language should not, traditionally, have assessment scores quoted if they have not been assessed in their first language.  However, it was not possible to assess these children in their own languages, so, due to the fact that they are in settings where they are expected to function in English and as the data is being used to compare them to themselves and their peers and not to give them a diagnosis of language delay/disorder, scores are quoted for EAL children in this report.

Pre-assessment Data

Out of the 67 children assessed;

  • 50% of all children assessed were more than 12 months delayed for comprehension (41% post)
  • 88% were more than 6 months delayed for comprehension.
  • Only 17% were within normal limits for their age for comprehension (50% post)
  • 21% of all children assessed were more than 12 months delayed for expressive language (information and grammar scores combined). (21% post)
  • 48% were more than 6 months delayed for expressive language skills
  • 34% were within normal limits for their age for expressive language. (50% post)

These figures confirm that many children in Blackbird Leys are starting Nursery with pre-existing language difficulties.

Teacher checklists

The majority of children were rated poorly (1 or 2 out of 5) in more than one area (listening, confidence, thinking, language, social skills) by their Teacher in September 2010, indicating that difficulties in these areas rarely occur in isolation and so should be treated by a complete package such as Spirals.

Results

All the figures here are a result of the dedication and hard work of the staff in the Foundation Stages at each school as well as the added input of Spirals.  Teaching Assistants and other staff members who observe Spirals are able to transfer the principals and skills that they have learned in the group into the main classroom.  Collaborative working between Speech and Language Therapist and school staff is essential to these results.

General

44% of children made more than 8 months’ progress in 8 months for comprehension (see blue portion of pie chart).

43% made between one month and 8 months progress (see purple portion of pie chart).  This area includes some children who may have made more progress than the assessment was able to measure as it is only able to measure up to 8:0 years and 5:0 years for one subtest.  The children to whom this applies were chosen to participate due to low levels of confidence rather than suspected language difficulties.

13% made no statistically significant progress (see yellow portion of pie chart).  Children in this category may have made some progress in their raw scores but still scored below 3:0 and therefore not moved up a level.

49% of children made more than 8 months’ progress in 8 months for expressive language (see blue portion of pie chart).

38% made between one and eight months’ progress (see purple portion of pie chart).

13% made no statistically significant progress (see yellow portion of pie chart).  Some of these children made progress in their raw scores, but not enough to move into the band starting at 3:6.

So, nearly half of all Spirals children made more progress than would normally be expected over an 8 month period.

It must be noted that, for children with even mild speech and language difficulties, it would be unusual that they made the expected amount of progress in the allotted time.  The quote below goes some way to explaining why this is the case.

“Children with SLCN (Speech , Language and Communication Needs) are at a major disadvantage compared to

their peers in primary schools; they have to learn in an environment where the medium for learning is their major

weakness.”

(Speech, Language and Communication

Needs and Primary School-aged Children Ican talk series – issue 6.)

Therefore, it is impressive that so many children are making good amounts of progress (between 1 and 8 months) and even more impressive that a large number are making more progress than expected (over 8 months).

I CAN Talk Series – Issue 6

Dramatic

For expressive language, 21% made more than 18 months progress and 27% made more than 12 months progress.  This is considerably greater progress than is expected over an 8 month period.

For comprehension, 7% made over 18 months progress and 18.5% made over 12 months progress.  Again, this is impressive over 8 months.

One child made 26 months progress in comprehension.  He started Spirals 14 months delayed and, 8 months later, was scoring more highly than expected for his age.  A case study of this child is included as appendix 1.

Another child made 33 months progress in expressive language.  He started off with just over a 7 month delay and finished scoring what would be expected for a child just under 18 months older than him.

Closing the gap

One of the main aims of the Children’s Centre is to narrow the attainment gap and to improve FSP outcomes for children aged 0-5 in Blackbird Leys.  The table below shows some examples of where children have caught up following Spirals input.

1 = Number of children more than 12 months delayed for comprehension

2 = Number of children more than 6 months delayed for comprehension

3 = Number of children more than 12 months delayed for expressive language

4 = Number of children more than 6 months delayed for expressive language

The above graph shows that Spirals may be helping some children with greater levels of delay, especially more than a one year delay, to get closer to the expected level for their chronological age.  However, it is also clear that there are still a large number of children starting school with significant levels of difficulty with communication.  The Children’s Centre provides a wide variety of activities and services, as well as Spirals, to try to make a difference to these children; promoting good communication and interaction from birth.  These include baby massage, stay and play, creative play sessions, parenting groups and outreach work.  It is my experience that children from families who make regular use of these services from an early age do not need to attend Spirals once at Nursery unless there is an underlying disability or impairment.

Participation in Spirals may not have enabled every child to have done well enough to fall within normal limits for their age on the post-intervention assessment, but this does not mean that they haven’t made progress.  The figures below are for children who managed to make some headway into reducing their language delay.

43% of the participants finished Spirals ‘less delayed’ in comprehension than when they started.

48% of the participants finished Spirals ‘less delayed’ in expressive language than when they started.

All caught up

The table below shows the number of children who scored within normal limits or above for their age pre-Spirals (blue) and the number who scored within normal limits or above for their age post-Spirals (purple).

EAL children

9 children who are learning English as an additional language managed to score within normal limits for their age on either comprehension or expressive language post-Spirals without taking into account the EAL factor.  Spirals seems to be particularly useful for children learning English as an additional language.

No statistically significant progress

Only 7 children made no statistically significant progress.  This means that they made less than 6 months progress in expressive language and less than 2 months progress in comprehension.  86% of these children are those who are known to Speech and Language Therapy.  4 of them have Special Educational Needs.  2 of the children are under Speech and Language Therapy Services and are learning English as an additional language.

Although they made no statistically significant progress, all were rated as having made progress in the classroom, either in thinking, language, social, listening or confidence, by their Teacher.  The case study of Tom (appendix 2) is a good example of this.

Teacher Checklist information

Every Teacher was given a form to rate each child in the 5 areas of thinking, language, listening, social and confidence.  These were handed out in September 2010 and June 2011.  Forms were returned for 9 out of 13 groups.  Teachers were asked to give the child a score from 1-5 in each area, with 5 indicating no difficulties at all and 1 indicating that the child’s skills are extremely poor in that area.  Scores from September were compared to June to find out how much the child had improved.  Every child made progress in at least one area.  Exactly as the results from this analysis showed last year, the two areas in which children made the greatest improvement were language and confidence.

Parent Workshops

These are structured and fun sessions for parents and children to enjoy.  3 of the 4 schools were able to provide a space and a support person so that a workshop could run at their school.  Orchard Meadow were able to run their own workshops; planned jointly by Laura Halstead and Teresa Fieldwick (Children’s Centre Link Worker for Orchard Meadow School), but run by Teresa and another member of staff.

Overall, 24 families attended one of the parent workshops.  The average attendance across the 3 schools was 25%.  St. John Fisher School worked hard to ensure that 58% of the parents who were invited, attended.  Attendance at Pegasus School was 27%, which is much better than last year.  Staff reminded parents frequently leading up to the event and Laura went in to speak to the parents at dropping off/picking up time to introduce herself and explain the workshop more fully.

Every parent who attended said that they had found the workshop useful.  These are some of the comments they left on the evaluation sheet at the end of the workshop.

l  “It gave me (a Dad) a better understanding of what to play/to involve child and parent together.

l  “I would like one of these sessions per term”

l  “My child has learned how to play games with others”

l  “The workshop provided us as parents an insight into what happens every week and the opportunity to take ideas home”

l  “My child is more confident and has definitely excelled since attending Spirals”

l  “Spirals has helped my child to be more calm, he’s nicer to talk to and he’s learned to listen without arguing”

l  “He is learning to take turns and it is helping him with listening and sharing”

One parent suggested that there should be sheets to send home so that the parent can continue to teach the concept that was learnt in Spirals at home.  This idea will be implemented for next year as there is a published book of Spirals sheets exactly for this purpose, which is a supplement to the Spirals programme.

Spirals Data Feedback Session

On the 7th July 2011, various people connected to Spirals and the Children’s Centre were invited to come and see a presentation of the data and to join in with some discussion around the results.  This session included Early Years Advisory Teachers, Foundation Stage Coordinators, Children’s Centre Teachers, Head Teachers, the Head of the Leys Children’s Centre and the Area Service Manager for Children’s Centres in Central Oxford.

Laura Halstead presented the data and facilitated some discussion around the outcomes of the project and developments for the future.  Below are some of the discussion points.

l  Children are scoring more highly on expressive language assessments than on comprehension

Children will seem to be functioning at a higher level than they actually are.  Teachers may wrongly assume a level of     comprehension based on their expressive language.

We discussed the assessments and how the 2D assessment pictures might be too far removed from the 3D, hands-on, practical fashion in which children learn and understand concepts within a Spirals session.

l  Children are finding sentence structures difficult (not just EAL children)

Some of the most common errors were in understanding the sentences below.

-          She drank the milk before she ate the sandwich

-          The boy is being followed by his cat

-          Shouldn’t you wear your jacket?

-          The boy is not climbing

Teaching staff seemed to agree that they would rarely use these types of sentence structures with children, especially those with communication needs.  Although, all Teachers agreed that they use negatives and were surprised that children struggled with these.  Again, the style of the assessment was questioned and may be changed in future to measure comprehension in a way that does reflect the type of sentence children are hearing.

l  Children who start Spirals with little or no delay make big strides forwards

Spirals is designed to be universal.  Elements of Spirals could easily be incorporated into group times.  Some settings are already doing this and seeing the advantages.

Hopes and plans for the future

l  Settings to continue to support Spirals

It is expected that Laura Halstead will continue to run Spirals throughout 2011-2012 in all four schools included in the project this year.  Settings are asked to show their commitment to the project by providing a room, support person and by filling out the Teacher Checklists  at the start and end of the project.

l  More TAs to be trained up

TAs learn new skills from supporting with Spirals, which can be transferred into the classroom.  TAs also play a valuable role in pre-empting situations and dealing with behavioural issues during the session if necessary as they know the children best.  They can provide vital information about what a child’s strengths and needs are.  TAs can be used to repeat part or an entire session at another time during the week.

l  Form relationships with parents sooner and involve them more regularly

A theme that came out of the parent workshop evaluation and figures was that parents like to be involved and included as much as possible in their child’s learning.  The parents who attended the workshops generally either had a good relationship with Laura, or with the child’s Teacher or both.  Only those really confident or really well-supported parents came to the workshop having not met Laura before.  One parent wrote on the evaluation that she would have liked homework sheets; another said that she would have liked a workshop earlier in the year.

l  Baby Spirals to be used with younger groups in Children’s Centres

The Children’s Centre is hoping to become involved with the pilot of Marion Nash’s ‘Baby Spirals’, which is suitable for younger children and/or children with greater difficulties than those accessing Spirals presently.  This is very exciting.

l   Summer Spirals in the Children’s Centre during the holidays

This Summer (August 2011) there will be four sessions for parents and children to attend.  The principles of the sessions will be based on Spirals and other general Speech and Language Therapy advice.  Children who have attended Spirals throughout the year will be invited to attend with their parents.  The idea of these sessions is to build on parent’s skills in facilitating their child’s language and communication development and for children to continue to practice their skills during the six week break so that do not regress while they are away from their setting.

Changes for 2011-2012 based on feedback/results

  • Assessment measures will be changed to something that is able to say more accurately, the level a child’s skills are at if they are below 3:0 or 3:6.
  • The assessment should be able to account for children learning English as an additional language.
  • Schools are already using the BPVS (British Picture Vocabulary Scales) to measure a child’s vocabulary at the start and end of the school year.  This assessment also has EAL factored into it.  Given that vocabulary at age 5 is the best predictor of whether children who experience social deprivation in childhood escape poverty in later adult life, this seems like the best tool to use to measure impact.
  • If parents get involved with their child’s learning in Spirals, they could help to make the impact much greater, therefore, Laura will endeavour to build relationships with parents sooner by being around at drop-off and collection times, giving out home sheets to parents, putting on a workshop before the end of the school year and writing to parents more often to say how their child is getting on in Spirals.
  • There will be greater flexibility for children to move in an out of the groups as necessary this year.
  • Laura will be covering Orchard Meadow Nursery while Teresa covers Orchard Meadow foundation stage rather than duplicating sessions.
  • Laura will be offering one morning and one afternoon nursery group to St John Fisher school as well as one foundation group.
  • Shepherd’s Hill Preschool and Windale Nursery have requested to have groups in their settings, so there will be one group in each and one group in Foundation this year.
  • Pegasus groups will continue as per last year.
  • There may be a volunteer to help to run Spirals groups for one morning per week.  This would free up the Speech and Language Therapist to see more one-to-one children.

Appendices

Appendix 1

Jack – an example of how collaborative working can really make a difference

Jack first came to my attention a few weeks after he started Nursery at Easter 2010.  At a glance, he seemed to be happily playing with the other children, but having been asked to observe him by the Nursery staff who were concerned about his Speech and Language skills, it was clear that he was struggling with language and confidence.  He spoke to children in short, simple phrases and relied heavily on gesture and facial expression to make himself understood.  Jack did not show signs of frustration and was well behaved.  He rarely spoke to adults and could easily have gone unnoticed.

Jack’s Mum began attending the Children’s Centre because her friend did and had told her it was a good place to go to get the children out of the house.  Jack is the second of five children and his older sister was already in care.  Neither parent works and his Mum admits that she rarely attended school herself.  Jack’s Mum was distrustful of the staff at the Children’s Centre at first, but, with a lot of hard work from the Stay and Play Leader, she realised that she could rely on the Children’s Centre to help and not judge her.  She has accessed help with housing, finances and relationships with the help of the Stay and Play Leader.

I met Jack’s Mum at Stay and Play during one of my drop-in sessions.  It took her a few weeks to speak to me about her concerns, but she too had noticed his difficulties with talking.  It was nearly the end of the summer term, so Jack’s Mum, the Foundation Stage Coordinator and I decided that he should be included in a Spirals group from October 2011 and considered for an SLT referral if there was no improvement.

Initial assessment of Jack’s communication skills in September highlighted poor understanding of language, especially in longer sentences, and delayed expressive language.

In the first few weeks of term, things weren’t looking promising.  Jack chose not to speak in Spirals and his Mum complained that he was being bullied.  However, as the weeks went on and Jack was praised for good sitting, good listening and good looking, and no pressure was put on him to talk, he found the courage to start speaking; in a very quiet voice at first and then gradually, he got louder.

Each week I would speak to his Mum and tell her what he had done well.  Jack would show her his sticker and she was able to say “Oh yes, Laura told me that you were a fantastic train driver”.  Jack remained in Spirals until June, by which point he probably could have run it for me as he was confident, chatty and knew that routine well.  His Mum arranged childcare for the 3 younger siblings so that she could attend the parent workshop.  She commented, “It was nice to see what he’s been doing because he talks about it all the time”.

When the assessment results were calculated, nobody could believe how well he’d done.  He’d made 26 months progress in comprehension and was now scoring better than expected for his age.  He’d also made 12 months progress in his expressive language.  The only area he’d not done so well in was grammar, but Mum very honestly pointed out that she doesn’t use the correct grammar when talking.  She said that she now realised that it was important to and she is going to try to make the effort to speak in better sentences so that Jack and the other children have a better role model.

In August, the family are going on the Children’s Centre residential trip to Hill End Camp.  Jack will be off to Year One in September as a chatty, confident 5 year old with a big group of friends.  We never had to refer him to Speech Therapy.

Appendix 2

Tom – No statistically significant progress but..

I first met Tom when he attended the Coop Nursery at age 3.  He had been diagnosed with Autism and his behaviour was difficult to manage.  I remember the first time he came to Spirals, he wandered around the room, put his hands over his ears when we sang and didn’t day anything.  It’s amazing how patient and understanding children can be because none of the others grumbled when Tom got a sticker for sitting down for less than a minute when they’d all had to work for 20 mins for theirs.  Each week, Tom sat for a few minutes longer and was supported to join in as best he could.

I got to know his Mum through Stay and Play and she talked to me about how the Children’s Centre had supported her at the time of Tom’s diagnosis and after.  She had taken Tom to the Sparklers group for children with disabilities and was a regular attender at Stay and Play.  When she received reports about Tom, we looked through them together and I explained any jargon or terms she was unsure about.  Tom’s Speech Therapist came to see him in Spirals and made recommendations.

When Tom started in his reception class in a school where I was already doing Spirals, the transition was smooth.  He started in the Spirals group straight away.  The teachers in the Foundation stage struck up a good relationship with his Mum and, with Tom at school, his Mum decided to become a volunteer with the Children’s Centre.

As Tom was already familiar with me and the routine of Spirals, and he had improved his attention and listening skills to a point where he was able to cope with a whole session, he was an expert among his peers.  He loved the routine and was able to predict what was coming up next, and this helped him to cope when one activity was changed each week.  Eventually, when he saw me he would begin to gather the children up and direct them to the little room without me saying anything.  He didn’t need his one to one support anymore, although often she would come anyway so that she could repeat one of the activities for him later in the week but she didn’t need to sit next to him and on one occasion he reminded her that she should be doing good sitting!  Tom learned new vocabulary and concepts as quickly as the other children, but still found forming sentences hard.  I would know when an activity was too difficult for him because he would start to recite his Mum’s shopping list, my cue to bring it down a level.  Tom’s Mum attended the Spirals parent workshop and suggested that homework sheets could be sent home for parents to use.  I’m going to implement this next year.  She also commented, “Having Tom* in Spirals is a blessing.  Laura has worked with Tom* since Nursery and there has been an amazing improvement”.  It goes without saying that his progress is also due to the hard work of the staff in the foundation stage.

Tom didn’t make any statistically significant progress on his comprehension assessment score, however his basic concept knowledge did increase.  He made 6 months progress on his expressive language assessment.  In October, he said, “Climbing” for picture 8.  In June, he said, “It’s climbing to get a cat down in a ladder”.  Socially, emotionally and in conversation, his skills have improved significantly.  This was reflected in his Teacher’s evaluation, which showed that he’d made particular progress in social skills, listening skills and confidence.  His Teacher has noticed that he is now able to make conversation, make social links and has a greater knowledge of people.  As a child who has Autism, these are some of the hardest skills to master.  He also understands boundaries and responds well if he has to be reminded of the boundaries – something he struggled with before.  His Teacher reports that he is forming some short sentences of his own e.g. “I sit by you”.

When I asked him, totally out of context, what he liked about Spirals, Tom said, “Necklace game, ball game” with no hesitation whatsoever.  I thought this was a lovely illustration of how far he has come since he was an uncontrollable 3 year old who couldn’t sit still for a minute.

 

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