West Berkshire Every Child a Talker

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Early Years
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

  • Narrowing the gap in outcomes for young children through effective practices in the early years
  • Improving children’s attainment through a better quality of family-based support for early learning

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

West Berkshire Council

Local authority/local area:

West Berkshire

The context and rationale

West Berkshire Every Child a Talker started its journey as a government funded one year initiative and developed into a local initiative funded by West Berkshire Local Authority. The initiative aims to improve children’s speech, language and communication skills through work with early years’ settings and parents. 


The Every Child a Talker (ECAT) initiative was introduced in England following The Bercow Review (2008). The Bercow report contained the following recommendations:

* Recommendation five: We recommend that a range of information, advice and support should be readily available to families, particularly at key stages and transition points in a child’s life.

* Recommendation six: We further recommend that the Government considers the case for funding national, regional and local services for parents.

* Recommendation eight: We recommend that PCTs and local authorities work together to undertake surveillance and monitoring of children and young people to identify potential speech, language and communication needs across the age range and particularly at key transition points.

* Recommendation eleven: We recommend that speech, language and communication is prioritised by all Children’s Centres and that it is a primary focus for measuring every child’s progress. 

Every Child A Talker has three main aims:

1. To ensure that children between 0 to 5 years of age who may be ‘at risk of delay’ are identified as early as possible.

2. To provide pre-school practitioners with the knowledge and skills to enable them to support the development of speech, language and communication skills.

3. To enable parents to understand the importance of communication skills and how to support their child’s development.

Every Child a Talker was introduced in West Berkshire in April 2010 with twelve months of government funding. Two Early Language Consultants were employed to lead the project (one early years’ teacher and one speech and language therapist). Nineteen pre-school settings joined the team in April 2010. An additional three settings joined in September 2010. Using evidence to demonstrate the impact that Every Child a Talker had on the families and practitioners in West Berkshire, the initiative was funded for an additional 12 months by the local authority. In April 2011, an additional 19 settings joined the team and the 7 remaining children’s centres were invited to become involved. The team broke this down into phase one (April 2010 – March 2011) and phase two (April 2011 – March 2012). Following the continual success of the initiative, the local authority agreed to fund a third year. In phase three 15 new settings joined the team and started their ECAT journey. 

The practice

Settings: ECAT focuses on children between 0 and 5 years of age. The pre-school settings that were invited to join the initiative in all of the three phases were identified by the early years team from the local authority. Factors taken into consideration included: location of the setting, foundation stage profile results for the primary school setting the children feed into and information gathered from visits made by practitioners from the early years’ quality team. Some of the settings that joined the team in phase three expressed an interest in joining the ECAT initiative at a conference that we hosted in November 2011.

Early language consultant: A speech and language therapist and an early years teacher were employed jointly to share the role of early language consultant (3.5 days a week). These two practitioners have remained in post throughout the three phases. The early language consultant’s role includes; organising and leading cluster meetings, visiting the pre-school settings, supporting each setting to devise an action plan, providing and organising further training opportunities as needed, leading the publicity work, and collecting and collating the child monitoring data.

Practitioners: Once a setting committed to be involved in ECAT, they were asked to identify one practitioner to lead ECAT in their setting and they were known as the Early Language Lead Practitioner (ELLP). This practitioner attends three cluster meetings a year, receives email contact from the Early Language Consultants and is responsible for submitting the child monitoring data for their setting by the deadline each term. It is emphasised that for ECAT to work, each setting needs to commit to a team approach and that the ELLP facilitates this team approach and does not take on sole responsibility for ECAT.

Phase one (April 2010 – March 2011): The amount of funding provided by the government enabled each ELLP to have one session a week (half a day) to dedicate towards ECAT. The initiative started with comprehensive speech, language and communication training provided by the speech and language therapy department and the pre-school teacher counsellor service. This training focused on the development of the different areas of communication skills (play, attention and listening, understanding of spoken language, use of spoken language and speech sounds) and the use of key strategies to support a child’s development. Homework was given to the practitioners each week, and this often involved observing children in their setting or trialling the use of one of the key strategies. A termly cluster meeting was arranged (three times a year) and further training opportunities were provided (e.g. communication friendly spaces). Key resources were provided to help the ELLPs in their role (including video cameras, story sacks, printers and books). 

Phase two (April 2011 – March 2012): Each setting from phase one was linked with a new setting. The phase one ELLPs visited their linked setting and helped them to set up an information board for parents. Three cluster meetings were provided for the phase one and phase two ELLPs. Some of these were joint cluster meetings and training opportunities. The phase two ELLPs were provided with the same speech, language and communication training as phase one. 

Phase three (April 2012 – March 2013: The ELLPs began their journey with the initial speech, language and communication training that the previous two phases had also received. Each new setting was visited by one of the Early Language Consultants and an action plan was drawn up. The ELLPs will have termly cluster meetings with the meeting in the autumn term focusing on communication friendly environments.

Child monitoring data: Each setting had to commit to using the child monitoring tool to assess all children in their setting between two and five years of age each term (three times a year). The original tool was provided by National Strategies. The ECAT team modified the tool during phase two and produced a new spreadsheet that would analyse the data automatically for each setting and a reference sheet that incorporated some of the recently published information about speech, language and communication milestones gathered from publications produced as part of the national year of communication (e.g. ‘Universally Speaking for 0 to 5 year olds). The early language consultants collated the data and analysed it to produce an overall summary. The spreadsheet and reference tables (Documents 1 and 2) are available from the C4EO team at C4EO team at the NFER. The practitioners categorise each child as being ‘at risk of delay’, ‘as expected’ or ‘ahead’ for the four key areas of speech and language skills (attention and listening, understanding, talking and social communication), using the reference table to guide them. 

Publicity work: A key aspect of ECAT involves sharing information on the importance of communication, the development of speech and language skills, and support on how to encourage development to parents, carers and other practitioners. There are many well designed parent resources available on the internet and through the Hello campaign (national year of communication) but parents are often not aware of these resources. Each pre-school setting involved in ECAT has set up an ECAT information board for parents. The Early Language Consultants designed and maintain a website for the West Berkshire ECAT initiative http://www.westberksECAT.info. The website went live in June 2011 and received 5153 unique visits in the first twelve months. The ECAT team has made full use of opportunities to talk to parents at local events and have given out leaflets produced by the team and resources produced as part of other campaigns (e.g. Hello, Talk To Your Baby). At the Royal Berkshire County Show in September 2010, the team set up a display and ran a puppet making activity for children. 500 copies of a specially designed leaflet (Talking Tips for The Berkshire Show) were distributed to families. Some families reported that they had already heard about ECAT. The team attended the same County Show in September 2011 and secured a space within the education tent. This meant that the team could share information both with families and other practitioners from educational settings across the district. The team recently attended events to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics, and produced Talking Tips leaflets for each of the occasions. At a garden party for the Jubilee, the team were approached by parents who were seeking advice on the stages of development for communication and information on how they can support their child. 

Key successes include:

1. The use of a monitoring tool to identify children who may be ‘at risk of delay’. During the summer term 2012, 2324 children between 2 and 5 years of age were monitored by staff in their pre-school setting. 1264 of these children had been monitored the term before and 25.24% demonstrated improved speech, language and communication skills. This is characterised as the child moving up at least one stage (e.g. from ‘at risk of delay’ to ‘as expected’) for at least one of the four areas of speech and language skills that were monitored. The data for the last academic year has been compared for phases one and two to track the number of children identified as being ‘at risk of delay’. 

The team is pleased to see that the number of children ‘at risk of delay’ has generally decreased each term.

2. The ECAT initiative consists of an individualised approach for each setting. Once the initial training has been completed, each setting works towards the three ECAT targets, identifying the most appropriate goals and actions for them. For some settings, their initial focus has been based around developing the environment. Others have focused on engaging parents or creating opportunities for communication through the use of appropriate activities / resources (story sacks, rhyme time). The Early Language Consultants have looked at the needs of the settings and have planned cluster meetings accordingly. For example, in one cluster meeting, each ELLP made a bath time chatterbox to take away with them. Some of the ELLPs found that the chatterbox really encouraged communication and they have gone on to make several different chatterboxes for their setting / each practitioner in the setting has taken on responsibility for putting together a chatterbox. In some cases, these are lent out to parents and in other cases, they are used within the setting. 

3. The ELLPs are encouraged to share their successes at the ECAT cluster meetings but also within the teams working in their own setting. In some of the school settings, teachers working in other classes / with older children have asked the ELLP whether they can be involved in the ECAT initiative and have sought advice about what they can do to support and encourage children’s speech, language and communication skills. Some classes have joined together to run the Bookstart rhyme challenge. 

4. Between June 2010 and July 2012, the Every Child a Talker team has attended 23 local events and has distributed information to parents. They have had five articles included in local publications and the press. Examples of the team’s publicity work were quoted in the August 2011 edition of EYE magazine.

5. The team was rated as ‘outstanding’ by National Strategies in March 2011. 

6. The ECAT team hosted a conference ‘Celebrating Communication’ in November 2011. The aim was to bring professionals who work with children together and delegates attended from pre-schools, schools, children’s centres, speech and language therapy, childminding, early years quality team and libraries. Jean Gross (Communication Champion), Michael Rosen (children’s author) and the ECAT team gave presentations, and delegates were given the opportunity to visit an exhibition that showcased examples of local practice and introduced the teams that work within West Berkshire. 

Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

Data collected from the use of the child monitoring tool has demonstrated that the children in the settings involved in ECAT are making progress with their speech, language and communication skills. As settings are required to assess all children that fall between the ages of 2 and 5 years each term (autumn, spring and summer), they are able to use the tool to monitor a child’s progress over the academic year. The ELLPs have been provided with a sheet to complete for all of the children they have identified as being ‘at risk of delay’ in at least one of the four areas. They are required to record what they have put in place to support the child and to note down how the child has responded to this. This sheet (Document 3) is available from the C4EO team at C4EO team at the NFER. Settings have been asked to ensure that this information is passed on if the child transfers to a new setting. 

An example of a progress monitoring sheet (Document 4) is also available from the C4EO team at C4EO team at the NFER.

We have a portfolio of further evidence of the impact that ECAT has made on children, families and practitioners including;

* Quotes from parents and practitioners.
* Photographs of the changes made to the pre-school environment following the 'Communication Friendly Spaces' training during phase one. This included looking at the use of colour; the use of natural and controlled lighting; the storage of resources; the use of natural resources; noise levels; and spaces for communication both indoors and outdoors. Further information on this approach can be found on the website of the founder Elizabeth Jarman.
* Child Learning Journals that list the strategies that staff are using to support a specific child and the impact that these strategies have had on the child.

Each ELLP has been encouraged to collect evidence to demonstrate the changes that they have made and the impact that this has had in their setting. This evidence may consist of photographs, observations of children, quotes from parents and practitioners, and their own child monitoring data. Some settings have completed parent questionnaires.

The following examples highlight how ECAT has made a difference to pre-school aged children in West Berkshire:

* The ELLP at an Infant School introduced a talking table. She placed a pineapple in the middle of a table and stood back to listen to what the children said when they noticed it. Several children stood around the table and here are some of the things that they said: “This is prickly”, “It’s got leaves, look here on the top”, “My mum will get you one, I’ll tell her”, “Yeah, give A some, here have this it’s delicious”, “It’s crunchy and yummy”. 

* The phase one ECAT settings have worked really hard to look at their environments from a child’s point of view and to explore ways of developing them in conjunction with their children. The ELLP at a Primary School noticed that the children were interested in playing with the leaves outside during the autumn term. She asked the caretaker not to clear the leaves away and a fantastic talking opportunity was created. Following observations at a Children’s Centre, the staff decided to take away a row of adult chairs. They found that this created more space for play and that the parents were now more likely to join the children on the floor. One parent commented “What have you done in here? It looks so much bigger”. 

* Many of the settings have chosen to introduce a talking tip of the week for parents and / or practitioners. Parents have reported that they find it helpful to take away the talking tip of the week on a slip of paper. When the ELLP at one of the Children’s Centre was absent from work for a week, a parent told her that they really missed the talking tip of the week.

* The ELLPs have also worked really hard to introduce the Bookstart Rhyme Challenge to their setting and a local project called 'stirring up a story'. A parent at a nursery commented “He sings around the house all of the time and loves the rhyme time”. Staff noticed that one little boy was so thrilled with his stirring up a story book that he went and found all four teachers in the nursery to share his book and retell his story with them. A child at another nursery reported “I learned different songs & enjoyed doing them with Mummy & Daddy”.

The following evidence supports ECAT aim number three: to enable parents to understand the importance of communication skills and how to support their child’s development.

* Many of the settings have involved parents in the Rhyme Challenge and held celebration assemblies for the children to sing the rhymes that they had learnt. Parents at one school reported “F was singing in the shower last night!” and “O sings away at home – he was singing the Grand Old Duke all the way up the stairs last night.”

* At one Children’s Centre, the ELLP ran a storysack making course over several sessions. One of the parents who attended reported that she did not have any storybooks at home and that she didn’t have any money to buy one. This parent returned to the Children’s Centre the next week with a storybook that she had made. She had written the story and illustrated it herself. 

* At another Children’s Centre, a member of staff introduced a special talk to your baby slot during the weekly ‘bumps and babes’ group. This later developed into a story time for the babies and the parents reported that they were really surprised how interested the babies were in the story and the pictures in the book. 

* The ECAT team has set up a stand and answered parents / carers questions at many local events (including a large county show and a stand at Sainsburys supermarket). A parent that talked to the team at a supermarket said “I am so glad I bumped into you” and at a county show, parents reported “We’re doing ECAT at pre-school and it’s really helping her” and “I’ve heard of ECAT at my children’s centre”.

* One parent briefly chatted to the team at an event at some local lakes during the summer 2010. This parent then contacted the team by telephone in January 2011 to find out how she could get her son referred to the speech and language therapy department. This young man and his family are now getting much needed support from the speech and language therapy team.

* In June 2010, the ECAT website went live and had at least 5153 unique visits up to the end of May 2011. The website has continued to receive between 800 and 1000 visitors each month. The team have produced several leaflets for parents that have been added to the website and handed out at events (e.g. ‘Christmas Talking Tips’, ‘Talking Tips for the Olympics’). 

Sustaining and replicating your practice

Sustaining the practice

Sustaining the work of ECAT has been an important consideration for the team right from the beginning. Towards the end of the one year government funding, we put together a proposal to continue the ECAT initiative in West Berkshire and gathered a large portfolio of evidence. We were able to secure funding for the Early Language Consultant post (2 days SLT and 1.5 days teacher) and a small budget for resources and venues for training / meetings. For two days of speech and language therapy support (15 hours a week), the local authority paid £25,000 to the local NHS speech and language therapy team. The one and a half days of teacher support cost £18,500. Less than £1,000 has been spent on venue hire and refreshments for the termly cluster meetings during phase two. 

The number of children who are involved in the ECAT initiative in West Berkshire is variable and changes on a term by term basis depending on the number of children and families who are accessing the early years’ settings that we are working with. For example, one nursery had 122 children on role and another smaller nursery setting had 34 children on role during the summer term 2012. 2324 children between the ages of two and five years of age were monitored across our settings using our child monitoring tool during the summer term 2012. This figure does not include the children less than two years of age who will have been involved in the initiative in children’s centres and day care settings. Many of our settings have also commented that siblings of the children attending their setting will also have been indirectly benefitting from the initiative through the provision of advice and information to parents. In addition to the above, within some of the schools involved, the ECAT work has been extended beyond the F1 class following the school making a decision that the older children would also benefit from the additional support.

In November, we hosted a half day conference called ‘Celebrating Communication’. This linked in with the November monthly theme for the National Year of Communication and brought together delegates from health, education, libraries, children's centres and senior management. The ECAT team were able to gather details of new settings that would like to be involved in ECAT in the future. The costs associated with hosting the conference were covered by a delegate fee of £20. 

Phase two has been more challenging due to the reduced funding and the fact that the lead practitioners did not receive funding to provide half a day cover per week for ECAT work. Phase two practitioners have often had to complete ECAT work alongside all of their other responsibilities and this made it particularly difficult for the linked phase one and phase two settings to meet up and work together. We have worked hard to get management teams on board and to help them to understand the importance of early communication skills and how ECAT can support them to encourage children's communication skills. 

Working with children centre staff has also been challenging because the staff are so stretched. We have arranged training for staff and they have attended if possible. Children’s centre staff are not usually able to attend the termly cluster meetings for each of the three phases as they have commitments during the day. We are using examples of good practice to enthuse and encourage the children's centres that are less involved and are working towards setting up an ECAT representative to attend a children’s centre meeting that takes place monthly. 

We feel that bringing the NHS speech and language therapist together with practitioners from the local council has been the key to the success so far. Working towards making this link is something that other local authorities could strive towards. 

C4EO Golden Threads

The following Golden Threads apply to this example.

1. Together with children, parents and families – involve service users:
We believe that children will make the most progress with their speech, language and communication skills if all of the key people in the child’s life are involved. For all of the settings that we have worked with, engaging parents and carers has been a key target for them to focus on.

2. Shape up and keep fit – learning together:

The initiative has demonstrated the importance of providing early years practitioners with the knowledge and skills to be able to identify children who are ‘at risk of delay’. Although each setting has a designated ECAT lead practitioner (ELLP) the focus has always been on getting the whole team involved and ensuring that staff have sufficient support to be able to help the children to develop their speech, language and communication skills.

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