Spirals Communication

Spirals is a language development programme developed by Marion Nash, Educational Psychologist, and Jackie Lowe, Speech and Language Therapist, working with Plymouth LEA. The programme has shown positive results with linguistically vulnerable children and is outlined in this case study.

To develop early language and communication skills in the early years of childhood and to engage and enable parents to work as partners in this process.

Four years and ongoing

Early Years to Key Stage 2

Spirals was developed in Ford Primary School Plymouth, Plymouth LEA by an Educational Psychologist, Marion Nash and a Speech and Language Therapist Jackie Lowe working in collaboration with teaching staff. It is a scripted programme of group work, implemented in Early Years settings and schools through a 25 minute session of group work each week.
Education and health professionals are currently being trained in working with the Spirals language development system. Engagement of parents/carers is part of this. Practitioners are given the golden keys of effective work with linguistically vulnerable children. Essentially these involve pace and presentation of the adult’s language, supporting emotional well being, and supporting information sharing with a written policy. Practitioners consider these areas whilst working with the Spirals materials. The materials themselves extend to maths and science in order to cover the core curriculum.
In practice, the sessions are run ideally by two adults. This may be a teacher and teaching assistant, or two teaching assistants under the guidance of the school SENCO. In health settings it may be a speech and language therapist and an assistant.
The group size should be no more than eight children. Children are those who are linguistically vulnerable. They experience language as a barrier rather than as a helpful learning tool.
Groups are run once a week for 25 minutes. Some Early Years settings will extend this to two sessions a week. The sessions should be run in their entirety with few alterations in essential content and activity levels, but there is great flexibility in the number of times a session is run, and openness to the addition of supportive systems such as signing or visual cues.

A pilot research project in Plymouth in 2003 indicated outstanding positive gains for linguistically challenged children. This supports verbal feedback from parents and professionals who find the implementation easy, fun and highly effective. Long term effects over the last four years indicate improvement in literacy skills also, because of the increased ability to predict from an enhanced vocabulary base.
Currently we are running a small scale research project with four settings in Plymouth to investigate more closely the effect of the Spirals intervention.


  • Children and staff love using the Spirals approach. It is fun, and fun in this context increases effective learning, retention and later recall
  • Spirals is a structured scheme which provides the possibility of continuous support through the early transition into Reception class and continues to Key Stage 2
  • Children are noted to have grown in confidence and use of spoken language
  • Practitioners report consistently that they have noted a marked improvement in children’s attention and listening skills. Their understanding of vocabulary increases
  • Parents have reported that their child has become more outgoing and sociable in participating settings
  • Parents feel supported and reassured by the home activity books which give fun activities to support good language development and to check progress


  • A modular course is being developed for next academic year for practitioners who wish to explore the underlying psychological and linguistic concepts which underpin the Spirals programmes
  • One day workplace training courses are currently being offered through I Can
  • Training for whole authorities can be accessed through Granada Learning linked to NFER


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