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The Key to Communication

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LIFE-CHANGING, amazing and an eye-opener are just some of the words trainees used to describe the Elklan training, which has been presented to Service Children’s Education (SCE) staff over the last three years. 

Last month a selection of previous trainees gathered together to celebrate what they had achieved, to talk through the positive impact it has had on the community and to create an action plan on how to carry on the good practice in years to come.

Debbie Roberts and Catherine Walker have facilitated training on the Elklan programme since 2013.  The training has benefitted children locally, after Debbie and Catherine identified a requirement for speech and language support in the community.  Attendees on the course came from a number of different schools and settings across three countries. 

Debbie said: “We have trained 158 people in three countries in the under-five years and five to 11-year-old settings.  It came about after a lot of changes in SCE roles, which promoted a review of requirements.  One of the main needs we identified was more support for speech, language and communication difficulties.  So, after speaking to our manager Mark Fraser, Cath and I were put on a course to be trained on Elklan.” 

The course focuses on all language difficulties, including issues due to social circumstances, autism or English as an Additional Language (EAL).  Elklan is a practical course, which can be used by trainees straight away, as it’s easy to embed in the settings.  

Debbie said: “We were thrilled when Mark supported us to take this into the settings and what has been great is that all these ladies have absorbed the strategies and put them into practice.”

The course has been fascinating for attendees, prompting greater understanding of the cycle of communication that we all go through.  Catherine said: “Sometimes people don’t realise that communicating can be so difficult.  There is a cycle that everyone follows, from understanding language, understanding facial expressions, deciding what to say and then actually saying it.  It is important that we give children the time to go through this process.”

Manager of the Sennelager nursery Happy Days, Rachael Marsh, was one of the first to be trained by Catherine and Debbie.  She said: “I have found the course so practical.  A huge eye-opener for me was the cycle of communication.  We now have a 12-second rule in the setting.  So, if you ask a child a question, you give them time to process it and answer.  The key is not jumping in to answer for them.   

“This practice is just one of the things we have embedded which is still going strong. Another example is the lanyards that staff at the nursery wear around their necks.  These contain flashcards, with symbols, including happy, sad and listening ears.  We can tailor-make these for individual children and they can be swapped over easily.  This has been incredibly beneficial.”

Debbie and Catherine have noticed a real difference in the indirect support this course has offered to the speech and language therapists.  Catherine said: “The speech therapists are over-subscribed.  Thanks to our work with the Elklan programme, it means they receive a very focused referral meaning the needs are being met quickly and efficiently.  The speech therapists are thrilled we have been delivering this.”

Participants in the course have found it practical and easy to implement day-to-day.  Heidi Kurjan, Key Worker at Bishopspark School, said: “This course has been a good learning curve.  The progress in the children is great to see; I have noticed a real improvement in the setting.  As part of Elklan we started to use dolls to aid speech development.  It is amazing to see shy children with these dolls.  You take a step back and suddenly you see a whole different child.  This course has been excellent in aiding understanding of how children think and process language.”

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Claire Sell, Foundation Stage Leader at Bishopspark School said: “I have been teaching now for 23 years, mostly in early years.  I have noticed a difference in communication needs in this time, with children needing more support over the last five years in particular.  I am not sure if this is just the result of modern life but we need to move with the times.  So, it is important that we get the message across and support parents on communicating with children, through things like sharing books, even at a very young age.  Children are our future generation, so it is essential that we provide that support when they are young.  Elklan has helped us deliver this.”

Debbie and Catherine are leaving BFG in the coming months, but they are thrilled that the training will continue once they have left.  Heidi said:  “Part of the course requires you to deliver this message to other staff members which has been great for making sure we pass the message on.  Debbie and Cath have also trained more trainers so the good work can continue.”

The challenge BFG faces is the high turnover of staff and children due to the nature of the community, particularly with drawdown approaching.  This means, the settings are faced with losing the skill base they have trained,  so Debbie and Catherine used the session last month to set an action plan to ensure longevity.  Debbie said: “The next step is to think flexibly about how this can continue to be rolled out to more people come September.  That is one of the reasons we are here today.”

Catherine said: “The ladies have been passionate supporters of Elklan for the last three years.  I am absolutely full of praise for them.  It is evident here today that they work hard.  They have shown the practices that they have used in the settings, which is great to see.”

As the SCE staff wished Debbie and Catherine a fond farewell, they were full of praise for the trainers who have had such a positive impact in their settings.