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Language Enrichment Project helps pupils affected by the pandemic find their voice, build confidence

Updated: Feb 9, 2022

The Language Enrichment Project was part of Barnet Education & Learning Service’s Reset, Recovery, and Renaissance (RRR) programme, developed to support children in primary and secondary schools whose communication may have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Led by Kate Beare, a Speech and Language Therapist from Wave Speech and Language Therapy, and supported by Louise Yarwood, a BELS Learning Network Inspector, the aim of the Language Enrichment Project was to offer a programme that would provide communication-friendly advice for each setting, as well as provide small group activities that would support children whose communication had been impacted by the pandemic. The programme first ran in the Summer Term of 2021 and proved to have a significant impact on students, leading to another session of the programme happening in the Autumn 2021 Term. The Language Enrichment Project benefitted 621 pupils in Barnet through both sessions, with 225 students participating in the Autumn term.

The Language Enrichment Project was identified and developed by Wave Speech and Language Therapy in partnership with BELS to bridge the gap in children’s language skills that occurred as a result of the pandemic. “As schools welcomed children back from their isolation at home last year, it became immediately apparent that social communication skills had been lost during this time,” said Yarwood. “Many children, and indeed some of us adults, had rusty speech and language skills. School leaders across Barnet reported this was a significant barrier to rapid learning recovery.”

The Language Enrichment Project was launched to address these concerns and has effectively targeted these gaps in a way that has not only been exciting and engaging for children but has served as an invaluable resource for schools in learning recovery. “Kate [Beare] led precise and informative training offered to all schools with pupils from Year 1 to Year 7. It was an immediate hit! Almost every primary school picked up the resources and put them to good use,” said Yarwood.

The Language Enrichment Project was delivered over a seven-week period, with Language Enrichment Champions attending introductory training sessions over the first three weeks, then leading a total of six sessions at their schools in the final four weeks of the programme. Support was provided throughout primary schools with different packs for each key stage to ensure the suggested activities were age-appropriate and engaging; students in Year 7 also received support, as they transitioned to secondary school during the pandemic. Programme packs focused on Vocabulary, Narrative Skills, and Confident Conversations were offered for each key stage. These areas of focus were selected by the Language Enrichment Project as research indicated that vocabulary and narrative skills were negatively impacted by the pandemic due to pupils having fewer opportunities for language-rich experiences. Similarly, as social interactions were limited during various lockdowns and restricted measures, conversation ability was also affected.

Each participating school identified at least one Language Enrichment Champion, with a total of 45 Language Enrichment Champions taking part during the Autumn session of the Project. Many of those who took on the role of a Language Enrichment Champion found it to be a rewarding experience. “Being asked to be a LEC was a real compliment. I was really excited and proud to be a part of this learning journey with the children,” said Language Enrichment Champion Kandi Fitzgerald, “At times I found it challenging trying to keep the group of children all listening and learning at the same time but found making the sessions fun and interactive worked really well for us.”

Through working on the critical skills through the Vocabulary, Narration, and Confident Conversations packs, pupils have been able to get “back-on-track” and gain confidence in developing friendships and better expressing themselves. “One child in particular who needed social development with peers and teachers, really benefited from the Confident conversation and also the Word learning skills packs,” said Fitzgerald. “We spent a lot of time talking, turn-taking, and playing games [from the packs]. It was just so lovely to watch him in class grow in confidence and seeing him interact – making conversation, laughing, giving eye contact – with his class peers and teachers made my heart burst! I knew then how important it was for him and being a part of that makes it all worth it.”

The sessions were well-received by pupils, with Yarwood commenting, “Children plead for their next lesson and love the structure where every child has their turn to speak. They feel important, listened to and they know they are learning.” Fitzgerald found that pupils were highly engaged in the lessons and enjoyed working together, saying, “The children enjoyed the Narrative programme pack, [discussing] ‘who’, ‘what [are they] doing’, ‘what happened next’ when I read out Jake Going to the Beach and them having to recite the story back to me using the laminated visual cards available. It was lovely seeing how engaged they were and how well they listened to the story! They all loved using the visual cards and enjoyed working together as a group and supporting each other if one didn’t know the answer.”

The training sessions and packs empowered the Language Enrichment Champions with the tools and skills they needed to build pupils’ confidence with language and communication. Many of the LECs indicated they would integrate these practices into their teaching and use them in the future. “These packs will continue to be used by myself and other members of staff in our school,” said Fitzgerald. “They are easy to use, fun, and if you feel or recognise a child that would benefit from it, they are quick, easy sessions to do.”

The universal benefit and ease of use of the Language Enrichment Project packs were echoed in the anonymous feedback forms from the sessions. One comment from the Autumn term’s feedback said, “I feel that we now have a resource to support children’s language development that we can use at any time and everything is there and ready.” Another Language Enrichment Champion said, “We will definitely continue to use the language enrichment packs in our school, I have shared all of the resources around the school.”

Commenting on the project’s success, Beare said, “I have been blown away by the uptake from schools in relation to the Language Enrichment Programme. The Language Enrichment Champions have worked so hard during the Summer and Autumn Term and it is clear now that it is a resource they are comfortable to continue to use. As a Speech and Language Therapist, it has been great to have the time to create a set of training and resource packs that focus on key areas required for language development at different developmental ages.

Wave Speech and Language Therapy is set to partner with Barnet Education & Learning Service in the near future to offer another Language Enrichment Project for Early Years pupils, as well as a similar programme to parents to continue developing critical language and social skills at home, to enhance learning recovery for those pupils who have been affected by the pandemic.

You can learn more about Wave Speech and Language Therapy by visiting their website here.

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