Posted in Assessment, research, SEND, Uncategorized

Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?

Every year, SATs results and other national testing shows that too many children and young people are not meeting expected levels in literacy, with 1 in 5 children leaving primary school below the national expected levels in reading, writing and mathematics.[1]

If you cannot learn to read, you cannot read to learn, and too many children are unable to access the curriculum due to poor reading skills. It is these children who then become disengaged and leave school with few, or no qualifications, resulting in significantly reduced opportunities. Continue reading “Dyslexia: overlooked and left behind?”

Posted in communication, education, leadership, learning, policy, schools, SEND, talk, teaching, technology

Speech and Language Therapy, What do I do exactly?

Today we welcome guest blogger, Claire Johnston, a Speech and Language Therapist at Springhill High School in Birmingham, who sheds light on how to support pupils with speech, language and communication difficulties, through the context of her day-to-day work.

“Hi, my name is Claire.”

“Hi, what do you do for a job?”

“Oooo, I know a little boy who has a lisp, I bet you loved the King’s Speech Film.”

And so it goes on!

For Speech and Language Therapists (SLT) I think that this is quite a familiar conversation. Certainly when I first start talking to people, most think that SLT’s just work with children who have difficulty with their speech sounds or we work with people who have a stammer. Many are surprised when I explain it as a birth to grave profession and that we are not a quasi-science. Our work is guided by evidence based practice and scientific research. Speech, language and communication difficulties can occur at any point in our lives and it may hit us like a ton of bricks, a life changing event. We are a birth to grave profession.

From birth we may work with families and new born babies who have been born with a cleft palate or other facial structural abnormality to support safe feeding, and will support the child and their family on a long journey.

We work with children who have an autistic spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), pathological demand avoidance syndrome (PDA) and other developmental conditions. We support them by working with the child and the team around them to develop communication skills using various methods from signs to symbols and voice output devices. We also develop behaviour modification strategies and support the school team with differentiation of the curriculum.

Click here to see a video about how speech and language therapy can help pupils with autism to communicate.

We work with teenagers, adults with learning difficulties and young offenders. It is estimated that up to 90% of young offenders have undiagnosed speech, language and communication difficulties. Negative behaviour for some is the only communication tool they have to express their anxiety, embarrassment at not being able to do class work, stresses, peer pressure, bullying, self-harm and trauma, or mental health difficulties. Never dismiss negative behaviour as “Oh, they are up to it again disrupting the whole class”. It is hard to find the time with the pressures of the school day to spend time with students but there is always a function to the behaviour.

Part of our caseloads may be working with adults with learning difficulties to support them in becoming fully active members of their communities. We also work with individuals who have had a stroke and lost their ability to express themselves or understand what loved ones are saying to them and people who have degenerative conditions such as motor neuron disease who lose their ability to speak, individuals who experience a traumatic brain injury, or Parkinson’s disease.

We work with every professional under the sun from teachers to social workers to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHs) to the police/young offending teams (YOTs) to carers to neurologists and audiologists. Most importantly, the person who needs us themselves is central to our role, for many we give them a voice to say thank you and I love you to the people who matter most to them.

And yes we work with children who have difficulty with speech sounds and individuals who have a stammer! This isn’t an extensive list by any means of the client groups or the professionals we work with but this video gives you an idea as to what we do!

I currently work in a specialist independent secondary school based in Birmingham, where we have young people from many different local authorities. Many of the young people attending the school will have experienced numerous placement breakdowns due to challenging, negative and often very aggressive behaviours but behaviour is communication, it is how it is interpreted that is often the challenge. The staff team within school and the residential placements (not all of our students live in our residential provision) work within, and have a thorough understanding of, social learning theory and the need for unconditional positive regard. Every day is a new, fresh page.

As a Speech and Language therapist, I support the staff team within the school and the residential placements in many ways. This is managed by working directly with young people and indirectly by supporting the staff team and families.

First is the development of a whole school approach to understanding speech, language and communication. This is achieved with training to understand speech, language and communication difficulties, starting with development, this is very important.  If a 14 year old child is scoring on an assessment of receptive language skills at an age equivalent of 6 years, what is the point of handing this information over to the staff team without the support to understand the developmental level the child is presenting to then differentiate the curriculum to meet their needs?

Many of our young people have not accessed speech and language assessments, for those who comply (not all do and there has been the odd **** it, I’m not doing that ****) assessment has been very useful in identifying areas of difficulty with receptive/expressive language skills that had not previously been identified. An example is a young person who was not able to recall sentences during assessment as they increased in length and complexity, secondary curriculum language is complex! These difficulties had not been identified by previous settings, by picking this up the staff team were able to plan with this in mind and chunk verbal communication and use additional supports, such as pictures and bullet pointed information, to support comprehension and engagement within the lesson.

I support the development of one page profiles, this is a very useful document which contains:

  • The young person’s details.
  • Diagnosis.
  • Statement objectives.
  • Speech, language and communication assessment findings.
  • Recommendations from speech and language therapy.
  • Recommendations from educational psychologists or specialist support teams to then differentiate the curriculum.

Using this information, and understanding the need to chunk information for one child to allow time for processing of information, or presenting information with visual supports for another, can mean the difference between engaging or not and interacting in a positive manner or not!

I work very closely with all departments within the school and work jointly with many teachers. Examples of this are joining a P.E lesson to support the staff team by modelling ways to encourage turn taking, waiting, encouraging eye contact and extending communication from one word, for example “Claire” to “throw ball to Claire”. Along with support to develop a sensory activity programme for students to engage with during the day to help students focus. I work with and join drama sessions supporting students who may have specifically focused on body language and communication in 1:1 sessions to then use those skills in drama.

I work very closely with the English department supporting planning for students who are working at P levels to GCSE, this can be from supporting sequencing activities to the development of narratives, understanding who, what, when, where questions and sentence structures.

I support some students with small social skills group activities to develop turn taking, conversation skills, and environmental awareness, as many of our students often start off with 1:1 or 2:1 staffing due to risk. This has developed for some KS4 students into coffee sessions at a local coffee shop where skills became generalised.

Support was provided to PSHE planning to support students with understanding passive, aggressive and assertive behaviours within social situations and how we communicate using different behaviours. This has proven very effective for some students to reflect on both theirs’ and others’ behaviours and then modify them.

1:1 work is provided for some students who have very specific difficulties due to trauma, cognitive, mental health, developmental or environmental challenges. This can be to support many areas such as to develop emotional vocabulary, develop inferential skills, consequential/problem solving skills, receptive language skills, expressive language skills and yes, speech sound work!

The support and benefit of a Speech and Language therapist in school can be massive and the feedback from the headteacher and staff team is that it has supported the understanding and development of the school’s special educational needs (SEN) and speech and language knowledge, but the key to this is good team working and communication.

If you have read this blog, I hope that you have found useful!

Claire Johnston

Speech and Language Therapist

If you suspect that a child or young person you work with has a speech language and communication difficulty you can find information to support at;

NHS – Referrals can be made to local speech and language services through GP’s, SENCO’s, child development centres and self-referral.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

Posted in curriculum, education, leadership, policy, schools, SEND, teaching, Uncategorized

Talking about… SEND Reform

Unless you’ve been living on a desert island, unable to access the news, you will know that September 2014 is an enormous month for school leaders up and down the country with monumental changes coming into effect.

Governing bodies and headteachers will have to grapple with reforms to performance related pay, the first teaching of the new national curriculum, implementation of universal infant free school meals, the risk pool scheme for free schools and academies, reforms to teacher’s pension schemes, and meeting their duty to support pupils with medical conditions, to name but a few.

I hope you’re still keeping up?

Well, if that wasn’t enough, last month, the reforms to the special educational needs and disability (SEND) framework, outlined in the Children and Families Bill, was given royal assent and became the Children and Families Act 2014. These changes will also come into force on 1st September 2014.

By now, you must be tearing your hair out (if you haven’t already) over all these reforms, but bear with me. TheSchoolBus has your back.

So, how much do you know about SEND? 

Were you aware, for example, that one in five children and young people have a special educational need or disability? Or that the types and range of SEND is increasing all the time?

Twenty percent is a substantial proportion of the pupils in the education system. To put it in perspective, applying the SEND prevalence rate to a class of twenty pupils, for example, would mean that at least four pupils in that class would have a special educational need or disability. This number is far too great for school leaders to brush aside as a secondary issue.

It is also likely that the SEND of each of those 4 pupils is unique, with varying types of support required to accommodate the pupil’s specific needs. That is why the Children and Families Act 2014 sets out a more individualised and better graduated response to support pupils with SEND.

What are the changes?

The overarching change behind all the other changes is that of autonomy. School leaders, teachers, pupils and their parents will be given greater freedom in the way that they identify, assess and deliver SEND provision.

More specifically:

There will be a new 0-25 SEND Code of Practice, setting out the detail of the new SEND legal framework.

Statements of SEN and Learning Difficulty Assessments will be replaced by joint EHC plans, for pupils whose SEND requirements cannot be reasonably met internally, with the resources normally available in mainstream schools. Pupils, who currently have a Statement of SEN before 1st September, will be gradually transferred to an EHC plan. Schools will need to manage a dual system of SEN Statements and EHC plans for the next three years.

School Action and School Action Plus will be replaced with a single SEN Support system. SEN support will be the support available in school for pupils who have a SEND requirement but do not have an EHC plan. Your school should review the support currently given to pupils on School Action and School Action Plus in light of the changes in the 2014/15 academic year.

Local authorities will have a duty to publish a local offer outlining the support that pupils and their families can expect from a range of local agencies, including in education, health and social care. Your school should already be working with the LA, and local health and care providers, to develop the local offer and create the systems and partnerships needed to deliver the changes.

School teaching staff will be held specifically accountable for the progress of their pupils with SEND and will be expected to demonstrate this during their performance appraisals. The training and development of the employees at your school will, therefore, be vital, to ensure that they have the knowledge and expertise of SEND to provide quality provision.


TheSchoolBus has a range of resources in our SEND section that may help you prepare for the new SEND reforms, including:


Our editorial team is also on hand to provide you with any bespoke document or template that you require, so if there’s something we can do to help you prepare for and implement the SEND reforms, just send us an email to:

Posted in curriculum, education, leadership, learning, opinion, policy, relationships, schools, teaching, training

Elly’s Guidance on LGBT Inclusion in School – Part 2

Following on from our last post, Elly now goes on to talk about exactly what Ofsted inspectors will be looking for in terms of LGBT discriminatory behaviour and policies during inspection.

It is essential that governing bodies take note of the following guidelines to ensure that their school or academy is in the best possible position to meet and exceed expectations the next time that Ofsted undertakes an inspection.

When assessing primary schools, inspectors will be looking to see whether:

  1. Pupils ever hear anyone use the word ‘gay’ when describing something or whether they have been told by teachers that using the word ‘gay’ to mean something is wrong, scary or unpleasant.
  2. Pupils ever get picked on by other children for not behaving like a ‘typical girl’ or a ‘typical boy’.
  3. Pupils have had any lessons about different families (single parent, living with grandparents, having step-parents, having two mums or two dads).
  4. Pupils think if there is someone born a girl who would rather be a boy, or born a boy who would like to be a girl, they would feel safe at school and be included.

When assessing secondary schools, inspectors might explore the above, but also ask whether:

  1. There is any homophobic bullying, anti-gay derogatory language or name calling in school or on social media sites.
  2. If a gay pupil was ‘out’ in school, that pupil would feel safe from bullying, they have learned about homophobic/transphobic bullying and ways to stop it happening in school.
  3. Pupils learn in school about different types of families, including whether anyone is, or would be, teased about having same-sex parents.
  4. There is any homophobic bullying or derogatory language about a pupil or teacher who thought of themselves as the opposite gender and whether they feel safe and free from bullying at school.

With senior leaders, and when looking at documentary evidence, inspectors might explore:

  1. Whether they are aware of any instances of homophobic or transphobic language in school, whether this is recorded and how it is acted upon, or whether there is any homophobic language used against staff.
  1. Whether the school’s bullying and safeguarding policies and equality objectives address gender identity and sexuality.

With governors inspectors might explore:

  1. How the school meets its statutory duty to prevent all forms of prejudice-based bullying, including homophobia and transphobia.
  2. Whether they are aware of any homophobic/transphobic bullying or language in school and whether incidents are followed up effectively,
  3. How they ensure that sexuality and gender equality are covered within the school’s behaviour guidelines and policies.

What’s next?

Every change must start from within.

Whether you are a school governor or a headteacher, the above criteria should emanate from staff and pupils through their own behaviour and actions i.e. making sure that everyone in our school communities refrains from using derogatory words and phrases that may cause offence amongst people that identify as LGBT.

You might also consider undertaking a comprehensive audit of the school’s policies, procedures, curriculum, environment and working practices to see how they measure up to the requirements. Steps should then be taken to bridge the gaps towards creating a fully inclusive school.

The approaches used in ‘Educate and Celebrate’ have been recognised by Ofsted as ‘best practice’ for taking a whole-school approach to tackling homophobic bullying and ingrained attitudes in the education sector.

The ‘Educate and Celebrate’ program is available to all schools, local authorities and workplaces to eradicate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in line with Ofsted criteria and the Equality Act 2010.


For help, advice, consultation and training please contact

Posted in Uncategorized

Elly’s Guidance on LGBT Inclusion in School – Part 1

This week we have our first guest blog post by Elly Barnes, who was voted No. 1 in The Independent on Sunday’s Pink List 2011 for her commitment to people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered (LGBT) in education and awarded a ‘highly commended’ by the TES ‘Teacher of the Year’ 2012.

The LGBT movement has been a long and contested one, but a movement which, in recent years, has begun to gather pace across the country, with some profound changes made to the social and legislative frameworks, including those in the education sector. School governing bodies must now take steps to create an inclusive working and learning environment where the rights of LGBT persons, including both staff members and pupils, are promoted and protected at every level.

A major turning point was reached in 2003 when Section 28 was repealed. This ended the long running confusion within schools about their obligations towards LGBT pupils and staff members, particularly victims of homophobic and transphobic bullying and abuse, who could now access the appropriate counselling and support services.

The rights of people who identify as LGBT were then enshrined in the Equality Act (2010), which consolidated a number of pieces of existing legislation, including regulations making it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender reassignment. This means that school governing bodies must ensure that its policies and procedures are aligned with the provisions of the new framework.

This was swiftly followed up in September 2013, when Ofsted took action on one of the main issues affecting LGBT staff members and pupils. With the publication of a new briefing, the actions that schools took to prevent and tackle homophobic and transphobic bullying became a specific judgement of section 5 inspections.

In the second part of her blog on Monday, Elly will talk about what will happen in your section 5 inspections.

elly-barnes-logo copy

For further help, advice, consultation and training please contact

Today we have the first part of our fantastic article from guest blogger, Dr. Bob Sproson, Director of Education at Red Balloon, the only alternative educational provider for severely bullied children in the UK.

“In schools that perceive themselves as communities and that provide unconditional positive regard to each member of that community, their members are less likely to seek to bring pain into the lives of each other; in schools which view themselves as organisations wherein students have to compete to earn regard, then bullying will occur.”

Identifying young people who are experiencing bullying: The list of behaviours that could indicate that a young person is experiencing bullying is a very lengthy one, but there are three essentials for all adults. They need to:

  • Do all that they can to make young people feel able to talk openly and honestly to them;
  • ‘Teach’ young people that there is no shame in being bullied – it can happen to the brightest, healthiest, most capable and most attractive of people;
  • Be aware of any change in a young person’s behaviour – it is change rather than any specific behaviour that might indicate extreme unhappiness as a result of bullying.

There are some behaviours that occur more than others (e.g. self-harming, refusal to go where the bullies are, spending excessive time alone, not eating properly) that may indicate that bullying is taking place, but it is the occurrence of different/new behaviours that should be ‘watched for’. Equally any sudden decline in school performance may well indicate bullying (see educational needs of students below). It is essential that schools offer a forum (e.g. ‘form’ time or PSHE) where students are enabled to talk freely and honestly: where such forums exist, it is rare that bullying occurs. Educational needs of ‘bullied’ students: Regardless of whether the needs of students are defined as ‘special’ or simply ‘individual’, it is beyond question that a person who is in a high state of emotional arousal, whose thoughts are dominated by worry and fear, is unable to learn effectively and may even lose access to previously ‘learned’ information. If a student is to learn s/he must:

  • Feel safe;
  • Be allowed to re-address previous learning without fear of being chided for ‘failing to remember’ (“you used to be quite good at this… we’ve done this before – you should know it”!);
  • Be given the opportunity – probably through the creative arts curriculum, or through creative writing – to express their strong emotions, be they anger, shame or something else;
  • Receive strong positive support for their learning – a re-emphasis that they are worthwhile, that they contribute to the school community etc;
  • Believe they are a valued member of the school community.

If those needs are to be ‘well met’, that may require the provision of additional resources – schools require a mechanism to enable that to happen. Supporting bullied students: Whilst every effort should be made to reduce the likelihood that bullying might occur, it can occur within the most supportive of communities, thus no school should be fearful of acknowledging the occurrence (clearly if there are multiple occurrences, a school should question its own practice). Any student who believes her/himself to have been bullied needs to be:

  • Listened to in a non-judgemental manner;
  • Given the option of going to a ‘safe place’ during social times;
  • Assured that all teachers and support assistants will ensure that no ‘threatening behaviour’ occurs during lesson times;
  • Offered advice in terms of managing their ‘online life’ should bullying be occurring through this medium;
  • Provided with opportunities to consider their own behaviour and how they might reduce the likelihood of bullying occurring;
  • Given support to maintain their academic progress.

Working with the students who choose to bully others: There is plentiful evidence that simply punishing perpetrators has little long term effect: it may simply lead the perpetrator to bully in a more insidious and clandestine fashion. Techniques such as the ‘no blame’ approach and ‘restorative justice’ offer a much greater prospect of achieving the desired outcome – staff should be trained in such approaches. Young people who elect to bully others may lack empathy or simply not understand the impact that their behaviour has on others. If they are able to develop empathy, the likelihood of them continuing the behaviour is greatly reduced. Authors such as Simon Baron-Cohen (Zero Degrees of Empathy, 2012) have argued persuasively that schools should hold the development of cognitive and affective empathy as a core aim for all students. Appropriate work should take place within PSHE or form time; work with individual students might involve (there are similarities with effective work with bullied students):

  • Being listened to in a non-judgemental way as to why s/he chooses this behaviour;
  • Activities, especially with younger children, that enable them to learn new and appropriate ways of behaving/playing/socialising;
  • Access to a personal behaviour management programme designed so that s/he explicitly learns about anger management, depression, the difference between leadership and bullying, and about building positive relationships;
  • Asking them how bullying in the community should be dealt with – what the appropriate actions or sanctions might be, and how they think bullying can be ‘stopped’;
  • Being given access to a range of creative arts work through which they can express their feelings/emotions;
  • Being given access to counselling either with a qualified ‘talk’ counsellor or through sessions such as drama therapy, play therapy or art therapy;
  • Reading literature or watching plays/films that deal with bullying issues.


Red Balloon is the only current provider offering high quality academic provision alongside a wellbeing programme that aims to re-build the student’s self image and provide them with the interpersonal skills and the positive self esteem necessary to re-access mainstream school.

7a Chesterton Mill, French’s Road, Cambridge, CB4 3NP Tel: 01223 366052


Registered Charity No. 1109606

Working to reduce bullying and minimising negative consequences when it occurs – Part 1

Posted in curriculum, education, leadership, learning, SEND, teaching, Uncategorized

Teaching strategies and key approaches to support learning for deafblind children

Today we’ve got the first part of our blog on inclusive teaching strategies from Sense Children’s Specialist Services.

When we talk about deafblind or multi-sensory impaired (MSI) children we mean:

  • Children who have difficulties with sight and hearing and sometimes learning or other additional disabilities.
  • Children who have medical conditions which are likely to cause problems with sight and hearing as they grow older – for example Usher syndrome.

Teaching Strategies

Being deafblind makes it much harder for a child to learn. Curriculum activities must be presented in the best possible way for each individual child.

The learning environment needs to be optimised, and the key approaches of building trust, being consistent, helping understanding, taking time, following the child and being supportive should be used.

Many children who are multi-sensory impaired need to work one-to-one with an adult for many activities. Staff need to know the child and have knowledge and expertise about deafblindness.

Qualified teachers of children who are multi-sensory-impaired and trained interveners need to have specialist training in multi-sensory impairment.

Providing Information

Deafblind children cannot pick up information incidentally. This means that every aspect of every activity may need to be deliberately presented to a child, in a way that they can access:

  • Children need to know about an activity before it begins – what will happen, where and with whom.
  • They may also need to explore objects and places before using them in an activity.
  • Activities may need to be demonstrated hand-under-hand (where the child rests their hands on top of an adult’s). This approach encourages the child in a safe and sensitive way – forcing the child will not help him or her to learn.
  • Many deafblind children cannot see or hear the results of their own or others’ actions – for example, what happens to a ball when you throw it. They need specific feedback about activities and particularly about their successes.

Learning in context

New skills or concepts to be learned need to be broken down into their components. This helps to avoid assuming that children already know about aspects of an activity (for example that clothes get wet in the rain). It also helps in teaching, when very small steps may need to be taught one at a time.

It is important to teach these in the context of the whole activity, not in isolation. Deafblind children have particular problems linking one activity to another. They may not realise that separately taught skills are supposed to fit together.

Nearly every activity will provide opportunities to practise communication and mobility, and to see how existing skills in these areas can be used in new contexts.

For physical skills such as dressing, forward or backward chaining are often useful. In forward chaining, the child learns the first small step, then the first and second and so on through the activity. Backward chaining, where the child learns the last step first, is often better because the child immediately gets the satisfaction of completing the activity.

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog on key approaches to support learning for deafblind children.

Further information can be found on Sense’s website – at Sense’s family’s centres.   Sense’s Children’s Specialist Services are a team of specialist advisory teachers, children’s therapists, and children and family support workers. The team provide expert advice and information to deafblind children and young people, their families, carers, and to professionals who work with them. They also provide support in the home, at school, or at Sense’s family’s centres. 


Sense is a national charity that has supported and campaigned for children and adults who are deafblind for over 50 years.