Interview with a SENCO - thoughts on communication

Our Speech and Language Therapists regularly provide you with information, inside knowledge and tips and tricks on how to support your child’s communication skills. Here we are passing the mic over to another professional, Madeleine. Madeleine has worked with speech and language therapists for over ten years as a SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator). SENCOs work within the school setting and it is their job to make sure that the children who have extra support needs, get those needs met. Like Speech and Language Therapists, SENCOs work with a range of other professionals, including psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and of course, teachers.

It is a demanding, fast paced and very busy job! So, we thank Madeleine for taking the time to talk to us. Madeleine has worked in the UK and Australia. In 2016, she won an award for being one of the best in her field.

Here she explains to us how Speech and Language Therapists work within her team at school and what communication means to her.

What is your job?

I am a SENCO in a school and I am also a dyslexia specialist.

What does speech language and communication mean to you?

Speech and Language Therapists are an outside agency that I can turn to, to ask for help with children’s speech articulation and their language development. I can use speech and language therapists to assess a child, understand their needs and to provide treatment programs to move children forward.

I would say that prior to being a SENCO I wasn’t aware of how much speech and language therapists had to do with language. I thought it was more to do with speech articulation. They work with a wide range of communication needs and are an integral part of the team.

How do speech and language therapists help children in schools / your school?

They help by assessing the children, so we can understand their needs fully and then everything that that encompasses, e.g., speaking to parents and teachers so we are all aware of strategies that we can use to support the child. They help by providing a treatment plan and working with the classroom teacher and assistants. They also provide whole school inset trainings. They leave lots of good communication resources in the school and point us and parents in the direction of great online support and resources e.g. The Communication Trust and Talking Point sites. They help us to manage referrals that come through and provide us with strategies that support the child without having to make a referral. So, as well as working with children and supporting staff within the school, they are supporting us in identifying the right children to refer in the first place.

What is advice as a SENCO have you received from a Speech and Language Therapist that you have found particularly useful?

Short bursts of regular intervention are better than sitting for hours with a child working on something.

The therapists I have worked with over the years have also emphasised using gesture with children, modelling back the correct language and using open ended rather than closed questions. These are all little things that make a big difference to communication.

The fact that they encourage and promote everything that our school does, give us reassurance, we are all working towards the same goal and singing from the same hymn sheet, using the same strategies.

One other thing that therapists have encouraged is early intervention. Speech or language delays may be helped greatly by early input.

What advice as a SENCO do you pass on to parents who are worried about their child’s communication?

That depends on what the worry is, so if for example they are worried about (how their child says a) certain letter sound, I would refer to NHS guidelines that gives information about what letter sounds they should be able to pronounce at certain ages. Often, I will say that I am happy to listen to the child so parents could ask their SENCO or class teacher to listen their child as they will know that age group. Asking parents for examples of what they are hearing that they think is problematic can help. I encourage parents to be as specific as possible. Is it language? is it speech? is something specific like pronouns or past tense they can’t get quite right? Then if in doubt I would ask the speech and language therapist before making a referral.

For more about identifying communication challenges and the difference between speech and language challenges check out this article.

What advice as a SENCO do you pass on to teachers to help children communicate in the classroom?

Things related to ‘Wave one quality first teaching’ e.g. Children should be able to see the teacher who is talking, lessons should be multi-sensory so children are not relying on the auditory stimulus and so they can see and touch things, lessons can also be kinaesthetic and I also look the acoustics in the classroom at the start of every year, e.g. sound proofing , making sure the walls have felt on them (this can make the sounds in the classroom easier to hear) , chairs that don’t scrape. It is important that children have the best opportunity to communicate and hear communication. Then thinking about specific special needs – individuals need to communicate, so we may use alternative resources, Makaton/sign to make sure that every child can communicate fully. Then giving the children different opportunities for communication e.g. with the teacher, 1.1, in a group, in a small group, with different people and different audiences. So, I will discuss these things with teachers.

Give me one quick thing parents can do tonight to help their child communicate

I personally like, and I use with my own children, any of the Julia Donaldson rhyming books. Encourage your child to finish off the rhyming couplet, which is great for the phonology development and that underpins their literacy and will help with their reading and writing later.

Check out our sing and rhyme article for more ideas on this!

What communication skills do expect from a four-year-old just starting school

All children develop at different rates, it is important to remember this when thinking about where your child should be, but in general I would like them to make eye contact, ask and answer questions appropriately and be able to talk to their peers about themselves. They should be able to retell a story e.g. what they did at the weekend.

What communication skills do you want a year 6 to have when they leave primary school

Again, all children develop at different rates. But to be able to have a good conversation, not go off on a tangent, stick to the topic, have more complex conversations, use more complex grammar, richer vocabulary.

Need ideas on how to make grammar fun? Check out our article!

What is your favourite word and why

Oh, that is a hard one. So many words! I think it would have to be ‘Hello’. I like greetings! And meeting people. ‘Hello’ is universal, I think anyone anywhere would be able to understand the words and the of course the gesture! It is friendly, and everyone uses it.

Finally, what does communication mean to you?

Communication is everything, without it we are unable to access many things in our daily lives, socially and academically. Being heard and being able to express your needs and opinions shouldn’t be taken for granted. I am a big chatterbox, so I should know!

Everyone should be able to do this, regardless of skill set. In our school we work towards making sure that all the children are able to access communication.

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist

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