New £1million project to improve speech and language development for under-fives

Sheffield Hallam University has joined forces with South Yorkshire’s four local authorities to reshape early years speech and language services in a bid to improve communications and language skills among the under-fives.

The University’s social mobility partnership South Yorkshire Futures will lead the new £1 million project along with Doncaster Council, which has been funded by the Department for Education.

The partnership will initially review existing services to see how they currently assess children’s language and speech skills and gather data. They will then look at how current systems could be improved to provide the best support for children and families.

The project team will oversee the development and implementation of a sustainable regional strategy to meet speech, language and communication needs, delivered by multidisciplinary teams including professionals from education and health. A regional training team will also be established to identify any skills gaps across South Yorkshire and then provide tailored courses to train up the workforce.

Research has shown too many children in the region are failing to achieve early learning goals with 4,650 children in South Yorkshire not achieving the expected level of development in communications, language and literacy in 2018.

The aim of the project is to ensure that children receive the help they need in the early years in order to be able to thrive.

The project has been funded as part of a wider national DfE initiative which will see £6.5million for councils to support children with early communication difficulties.

Professor Sir Chris Husbands, Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Too many children in South Yorkshire face significant barriers to fulfilling their potential. If we are serious about tackling social mobility and raising educational attainment, it is vital that we work collaboratively across our region to give our children the best possible start in life. I am delighted that Sheffield Hallam’s South Yorkshire Futures has secured this important project, in partnership with our local authorities, to improve early years speech and language and drive educational improvements across South Yorkshire.”

Education Secretary Damian Hinds MP said: “Ask any parent and they want their child to have the best start in life. But we know that those from a disadvantaged background often start school already behind when it comes to communication and language development. This multimillion pound investment will provide better support to families in some of the most deprived areas of the country. No one is born knowing how to be a mum or a dad and parenting does not come with a manual, I want to support families with hints and tips to propel their child’s learning so they can go on to reach their full potential, whatever their background.”

Councillor Nuala Fennelly, Doncaster Council’s Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Schools, said: “We are committed to giving our children the very best start in life and the funding for this project, which is the first of its kind, will ensure that early help is available for all families across South Yorkshire who need it. I’m delighted that through our partnership approach, and everyone having the same commitment, we can work together to improve children’s outcomes in our region.”

The project will be delivered in four phases: planning and evaluation; analysis and development; development and delivery and legacy and will start in April 2019.

At the end of the year-long project a strategic board and a regional training team will remain in place in order to continue the work.

Maureen Hemingway, Early Years Foundation Stage Quality, Access and Moderation Manager at Sheffield City Council said: “We are extremely proud of the progress we have made in improving the trend of outcomes for children at the end of the Early Years foundation Stage. There is a great increase in the percentage of children achieving the Good level of development as defined by the DfE and we are so proud of the difference we have made for disadvantaged children, where our great outcomes are at a greater pace than the national average. The additional funding provides a very exciting opportunity to Sheffield – it will expand resources allowing us to further explore how we can do even better, capitalising on multi-disciplinary knowledge and expertise within and beyond our own local authority. We are delighted to be working with colleagues across South Yorkshire and Sheffield Hallam University.”

Rachel Dickinson, Executive Director, People, at Barnsley Council, said: “We are extremely pleased to be part of this project. Early language skills are very important to children’s development and learning, and the sooner we are able to identify and intervene with children facing any difficulties with speech, language and communication the greater chance we have of supporting and enabling them to achieve their full potential. This project will allow us to build on existing strengths within our early years/early help system and enhance training, practice and skills across the South Yorkshire regional workforce through collaboration and partnership. This will strengthen our ability to provide the right help at the right time to the right children.”

Rotherham Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s services, Councillor Gordon Watson, said: “We are delighted to be part of this regional project to tackle delays in speech, communication and early language development in our young children. Getting the right support to ensure every child can make the best start in life is one of the key priorities to help children reach their potential, thrive and go on to lead successful lives. Children and young people will need the skills, knowledge and experience to fully participate in a highly skilled economy and this collaboration will go a long way to support our aims to extend opportunity and prosperity for all.”

South Yorkshire Futures is a social mobility partnership committed to improving education and raising aspiration for young people in the county – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The programme – led by Sheffield Hallam University and backed by the Department for Education – addresses the educational attainment and wellbeing of learners, and aims to develop a dedicated and talented workforce to support them.

Sheffield Hallam University conducts research across traditional, disciplinary boundaries to support more inclusive communities in response to major societal challenges at local, national and global levels.

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