Hammersmith & Fulham Council has launched a pioneering scheme to help children improve their communication skills in primary schools.
H&F is the first borough in west London to work with the Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust on the project.
“Good language skills are fundamental to our education and everything we do throughout our lives,” said Cllr Sue Macmillan, H&F Cabinet Member for Children and Education.
“Helping children communicate from an early age is essential to improving their life chances. This scheme puts language skills at the heart of everything schools do.”
Each of the 13 primary schools taking part chose a member of staff to be communication leader and another to be a communication champion.
The communication leader makes sure speech and language is at the centre of the school’s work. The communication champion received intensive training in speech therapy to help children directly and train staff to do the same.
The NHS trust ran a 10 week accredited course for the 13 communications champions. The trust followed up this training with a series of mentoring sessions at the schools run by speech and language therapists to help staff create an environment where all children can improve their communication skills.
“It’s quite an extraordinary gift to the school,” said Mary Gilmartin, inclusion manager at St John XXIII Catholic Primary School in Commonwealth Avenue, White City.
“Well developed communication skills at an early age have the greatest impact on a child’s educational achievements throughout life and it affects all aspects of a child’s education.
“Lots of people think that it doesn’t apply in maths, for example, but a lot of questions are written problems, rather than just sums, which can require a higher level of understanding.
“What the children need is for their whole environment to be supportive of speech and language development. This project has come out of that.”
Sarah Childs, Principal Speech and Language Therapist at Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust said she was delighted with the passion and enthusiasm showed by school staff.
“Language and communication happens in every area of life so training a single member of staff in school isn’t enough – it needs to be all those responsible for a child’s learning,” she said.
“This project has influenced school culture, putting communication on the agenda at the highest level and making it a recognised element of a child’s school development plan. It’s changed the way these schools support children’s communication skills across the board.”