Improving access, inclusion, and participation

This unit examines effective classroom approaches for pupils with SLCN. It aims to give you the knowledge and tools you need to support colleagues as they improve their practice in relation to teaching pupils with SLCN.

The unit explores the following areas:

  • The importance of quality first teaching and the ways in which it helps all pupils, including those with SLCN
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Classroom communication for pupils with SLCN
  • Improving communication on a whole school level
  • Working with colleagues to differentiate provision to support pupils with SLCN

Quality first teaching

Quality first teaching aims to set and meet specified learning objectives for all pupils in a class.

It requires careful lesson planning to ensure:

  • All pupils in a class participate in learning
  • Pupils' individual needs are taken into account
  • High, yet realistic, challenges and expectations are set for every child

The benefits of this approach include:

  • Lesson design which is highly objective-led
  • High levels of pupil involvement, interaction and engagement
  • The appropriate use of teacher questioning, modelling and explaining
  • An emphasis on learning through dialogue, with regular opportunities for pupils to talk individually and in groups
  • The expectation that pupils will accept responsibility for their learning and work independently
  • Pupils' motivation is increased through the regular use of authentic encouragement and praise

There are a number of strategies that teachers, support staff, and parents or carers can employ to encourage and help pupils with SLCN in conversation. This grid shows some of the facets of best practice in this regard; select any one to find out more.


Supporting pupils with SLCN in conversation

  1. Pacing
  2. Using a slower pace in conversation to give pupils time to think and formulate a response.

  3. Pausing
  4. Pausing frequently and expectantly when talking to a pupil or group of pupils can encourage their participation.

  5. Confirming
  6. By confirming their understanding of what a child has said, adults can maintain the conversation and reassure the child that they are being listened to and understood.

  7. Imitating
  8. Teaching staff can imitate and repeat what a pupil has said; for example, if a child says, 'Look at our bridge', the adult can respond by saying, 'Wow, look at your fantastic bridge'.

  9. Commenting
  10. Adults comment on what is happening or what a child is doing. Comments about the immediate situation can help the child to associate phrases and vocabulary with their actions or surroundings.

  11. Extending
  12. By repeating what a child has said, but adding some syntactic or semantic information, adults can introduce new words or grammatical structures. This should be done in a way that is immediately accessible and understandable to the child.

  13. Labelling
  14. You can build a child's vocabulary by providing the names of objects, actions or abstractions.

  15. Open questioning
  16. Asking open-ended questions helps extend the pupil's thinking, encouraging them to say more and express themselves if they tend to give brief answers.

  17. Scripting
  18. It is helpful for adults to provide a verbal routine for activities; for example, 'First you do this, then you say that...'. Encourage pupils to talk through known routines; for example, 'Now it's circle time, what do we do first?'.

  19. Modelling
  20. Adults can model language that children are not yet producing.


Collaborative approaches to SLCN

In this clip, teachers and speech and language therapists from two London primary schools talk about the importance of collaboration and teamwork in teaching pupils with SLCN. They explain how liaising and working closely with teaching and support colleagues is integral to planning and delivering effective provision.

This audio clip relates to task 1 in your PDF of unit 11.

Show transcript

Anna Brownlie – Speech and Language Resource Base Teacher

My name's Anna Brownlie, and I teach in the Speech and Language Resource Base at West Green Primary School which is in Haringey.

It's an infant Resource Base, infant foundation stage, so we have Reception, Year One, and Year Two, so it's 3 ages. The children either have disordered speech and language or sometimes delayed.

For literacy, I plan with the Speech and Language Therapist, and she works with the children in small groups or individually and she's very aware of what their language needs are, and quite often, because she is a specialist in that area, she will often pick up on things that I might not pick up on, not initially pick up on, and, so she'll be able to say, actually I think he hasn't understood that, why don't we try it a different way? So she has a lot of input into how we plan, how, and the sort of activities that we do with the children to enable them to understand and to retain what they learn, because one of the problems with our children is, they forget, they, you know, they've got it one minute, and then the next minute it's not secure. So, she, she helps in that area.

We work very closely on planning other subjects as well, and she reinforces those, so she'll over-teach with a vocabulary, sort of word finding skills, strategies that she'll use in her groups, and that really helps improve the children's language.

That collaborative approach is key to the children's learning, because I'll do something with the children, the Speech Therapist will have input into that, and the HLTA will support that, you know, and together we sort of catch what, you know, what's needed and what, and how we need to go on from there. Sometimes, you know, I'll plan something and I'll think, I think this is right for that group, and she'll come to me and she'll say, actually Anna they really didn't grasp that, let's do that again, and so on, you know. Then I'd have to think of a different way to do it.

And then I'll go to the Speech Therapist and say, they really didn't understand that concept, have you any ideas of what we can use, and how we can cover that something I'm supposed to cover, because the children also need the national curriculum from the year, from Year One onwards. So, yeah, we work very closely.

Marie Nilsson – Specialist Speech and Language Therapist

My name is Marie Nilsson. I'm a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist. I work 3 days in a language resource in West Green School and I work 2 days in mainstream schools in Haringey.

Obviously, my training as a Speech and Language Therapist gives me insight and knowledge of child development, and language development. And also, most of our children are, have SLI, Specific Language Impairment. So, my knowledge of that I try to impart to the other staff members, and also the likely progress they are going to make.

My role in West Green is to provide intensive speech language therapy to the children in the language base, and that means one-to-one therapy, small group work, or work in the classroom.

My other role is to provide therapy and advice, and general targets to the children in the mainstream school, and also liaise with the SENCo, advise teachers, and provide resources and materials as need be, and speak to the parents and advise them about their child's progress. On a termly basis, Anna, the class teacher and I, we plan lessons for literacy, and then every Thursday afternoon we fine tune that, thinking about resources, thinking about the exact activities we're going to do.

We also decide the children's targets together, with the parents, and we try and incorporate those targets in literacy, but also other lessons. The specific individual targets that the children have, I work on in language groups or in individual sessions, but I also try to incorporate those, when we do the planning for literacy and other activities in, during the day as well.

My other role is to work with the TA in the class. I work closely with the parents. Obviously an initial assessment, we all meet up and I take a case history and I go through all their concerns regarding their speech and language but also other aspects of their development and home life.

I meet up with the parents at every IEP Meeting, and discuss with them what progress they think the child has made, and suggest targets for them to work on at home as well.

They are also welcome to call me at any time to ask advice or any questions. I sometimes make home visits. I obviously write reports on a regular basis, based on the assessment I make on the children, and the progress they are making, and that is discussed with the parent, and if they have any questions or suggestions we go through that.

I think it's also important to look at other aspects of the child's development. So we routinely refer to audiology but also look at their home environment, if they have housing difficulties, we can refer it to the appropriate professional who would help with that. Or, parenting groups if they're having difficulties managing the child's behaviour, we can refer to parenting groups, or psychologists, who would help with that. Collaborating with educational staff is very important because we need to spread our knowledge as much as possible. And training, collaboration, is very important to reach those children who may not get any therapy otherwise.

Heather Cordle – Year One Teacher

I'm Heather Cordle, a Year One Teacher at Christopher Hatton in Camden in London. I think the main thing for special educational needs is just teamwork and communication. I think here, I've never worked in a school that has a Learning Resource Base, and it works just fantastically in that Kate and I have planning meetings every week, so I'll do the planning before then, and then I'll be able to show it to her, and we talk about the visuals that I want, and ask her for the sign language that I want, any other visual things that the children will want on the tables, so she knows exactly what she's doing when she comes in, and can work with those children to the best of her ability.

We have a really amazing team that we collaborate together, we talk about the children on a daily basis, we e-mail to one another, and we obviously have our weekly planning meetings, so Kate knows exactly what lesson we're going to be doing, what visuals I need she brings with her, and any signs that I want to teach the children, any Makaton signs, she'll teach me, so there's real emphasis that the children know we're a team working together when we come into the classroom.

Kate Riley – Speech and Language Therapist

My name is Kate Riley, I'm a Speech and Language Therapist, and I work in Christopher Hatton School in the Language Resource Base.

We have a weekly planning meeting, myself and the class teacher, and in that planning meeting we talk about what's going to be happening in some of the literacy lessons that are going to be going on in the week. And in the classroom, I work with 2 of the children who've got a diagnosis of Specific Language Impairment, and that's the reason why they receive intensive language support from myself. So some of the work I do is withdrawal from class, to work on some of the specific individual educational plan targets, but I also work within class to support the children, to generalise, and some of the strategies that they've been using, but also to access the curriculum more fully. My focus is on developing language and communication with these children. But I think just working with these children in isolation doesn't really make the best impact. I can withdraw them from the classes and work on some quite specific targets which will develop their language, but actually if you then put them back into the classroom, without any generalisation, it makes very little difference. So the key not only is around that specific working but also trying to integrate that practice into the classroom, and speaking with class teachers to share that information, speaking with parents, that they know what level they're at. But really to work on that generalisation into the classroom in order to make the way they use their language and what we're working on effective.

Collaboration is absolutely the key, you know, there's so many school sharing opportunities and ability to share, not just, the kind the academic levels, but also around the kind of social and language building on a day to day basis. If you have that collaboration, I think if you work in isolation, it's just not something that you're able to get a good feel for on your own. And in terms of outcomes, I think we can see the positives of working collaboratively through the fact that people know about what other people are doing, so we can walk in and we can share a target that's been set, we can talk about how the targets are working, and it's on a very sort of day to day level, you're not having to just meet once a term, and having to fill them in on everything that's been going on for the past term, you're very much at the same level in terms of knowledge and understanding of the children because of the way that you're communicating, and I think that can only have a positive outcome on the children.

A 2006 study conducted by the Teacher Learning Academy worked with a group of 12 primary school teachers to research their approaches to classroom talk and identify strategies to improve participation in their classrooms. Select one of the tabs to find out more about the strategies they found to be successful.


Classroom talk

Extending participation

At the beginning of the study, teachers tended to focus on group delivery of information and spread questions across the class. This was due, in part, to concerns around covering the curriculum objectives.

Over the course of the study the teachers found that the following approaches helped to extend participation and improve the quality of contributions from pupils:

  • Using more effective question and answer strategies. Some teachers experimented with pupils writing down or discussing their answers with a partner, rather than answering the teacher directly.
  • A 'no hands up' policy, in which the teacher chooses the pupil to answer a question, helped to avoid situations where only those with confidence to put their hands up were involved in classroom talk.
  • Teachers tried to give children more time to think about answers. The aim of this approach was to enable all pupils to participate in classroom talk, thereby increasing the quality of their answers.

Professor Julie Dockrell – part 1

Julie Dockrell, professor of psychology and special needs at the Institute of Education London, and co-director of the Better Communication Research Programme, talks about educational provision for pupils with SLCN. Make notes on anything that's pertinent to you or the research articles that you have identified as being relevant.

This audio clip relates to task 2 in your PDF of unit 11.

Show transcript

Julie Dockrell – Professor of Psychology

I'm Julie Dockrell, I'm Professor of Psychology and Special Needs at the Institute of Education London, and I am Co-Director of the Better Communication Research Programme for the government.

When you look at the school environment and the way it meets the needs of children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs, I think your first step is to think about - who are the children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs? And they are actually a wide group of children in that some will have difficulties understanding the vocabulary and the grammar of language, others will have more difficulties with expressing that information, while yet others will have problems around the communication and the pragmatics of language. So it's a whole range of issues that are relevant to language and communication.

And the school strategies I would say are predominantly ones that should be happening in the classroom, or in context where children are engaging with other pupils or with teachers. And they include: giving children the opportunity to develop their language skills, both in terms of speaking and listening in small groups with other children, ensuring that when teachers are introducing information they re-frame complex language in simpler form.

And we think we do this, but actually a very interesting study that a graduate student did where she asked Year 1 Science teachers what words that the children in that class would find difficult, and which words they would find easy. And then she videoed the lessons to see whether the teachers treated those harder words in any different way. And in fact they didn't because the teachers got engaged in the lesson and the information about words that the children might find difficult was somehow lost with the lesson content. So you can think about preparing vocabulary, you can develop opportunities to talk in small groups and you can actually monitor when these opportunities occur because most of the speaking in schools happens by adults.

Let me give you an example of a Speech Therapist working with a set of schools in London. Who went through at the beginning of term with the teacher, it was a science lesson, the vocabulary that was going to be introduced each week that was new. She then worked with the teacher to prepare the young people in the class with the science vocabulary through games and visualisation, linking it to information that they already had, setting up contrasts, so the difference between transparent and opaque, and building it around activities. So there is one simple aspect about vocabulary.

Another aspect with younger children is interactive book reading where the children are working with an adult and the key issue here isn't that the adult reads the book, or that the child answer specific questions but it's that the children the group are asked open ended questions about the text, they might predict what might happen next, they can link it to their own experiences. So again an opportunity to use language both in terms of speaking and listening but also to develop their own thinking processes.

The ways in which understanding theory and evidence informed practice can help teachers about Speech Language and Communication Needs are I think twofold. One is by understanding the range of difficulties children can have with language and communication. Typically when you train to be a teacher, you may get no information about language development at all in your course. You may be lucky and have had a couple of lectures but typically not. So it is very difficult if you haven't got that background to understand just how difficult it is to learn the meaning of a new word.

So in one of my lectures I will start the lecture at beginning and introduce the students, these are Master's students to the word ‘hoyden' and in passing we talk about it and then at the end of the lecture which is a couple of hours later, I got back and ask how any of the students remember the word. Well, some do. Some remember what it meant - a ‘hoyden' being a boisterous young girl. But many don't, and so children are always in lessons, in the classroom learning environment, being introduced to new words and that's difficult. So theory, that's a very concrete example about thinking about word meaning, how complex it is. So that's one aspect.

The other ways in which I think theory and the research that one does is, if there are things, often quite simple things, that allow children to develop their language, it can be part of the everyday classroom activity. Then you become skilled as a teacher to do that. You don't need any fancy packages with lots of pictures, but actually you can set it up so that the teaching activities make sense to your learners in the context that they're working, but you know that what you're doing is talking with children in ways that will develop there oral language communication.

Professor Julie Dockrell – part 2

In this second part, Professor Dockrell looks at the complex associations between SLCN and other difficulties. She talks about prevalence rates across age groups, the reasons behind these, and the importance of speech and language therapists in schools. What questions does the clip raise that relate to the research you have identified?

This audio clip relates to task 2 in your PDF of unit 11.

Show transcript

Julie Dockrell – Professor of Psychology

Speech, Language and Communications Needs are often associated with other difficulties; the reasons why they are associated are often quite complex. So if you think about all of our interaction is based on speaking and listening. Now that speaking doesn't have to be oral speaking, it could be sign language but everything's based around that. So if you have struggles in that area, it may well affect your ability to learn at the most general level, but it may also affect your ability to interact with your peers, other children, but also other adults if you don't understand the demands being placed on you.

Within the area of language and communication there's certain aspects of the language system that can have specific impacts, so we know that some children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs have difficulty with phonology - the sound system of the language. We know that the sound system of the language is important for learning to read. So it would not be surprising that for children they will have difficulties learning to read. We also know that some children, not all, have difficulties with the social communication aspects of language. So: understanding other intentions, being able to read social signals. So we might find that some children, but not all, will have difficulties with behaviour. So the ways in which these associated needs, some of them are theory driven, so phonology links to literacy in a particular way, and others may be more practically driven, such that the classroom might not be able to monitor or support a child who is having difficulties reading social signals.

Speech and language difficulties are one of the areas of Special Educational Needs where we know we get different prevalence rates at different ages. So there are many more 5 and 6 year olds who are identified with special needs around speech, language and communication, than there are 15 year olds. Now the question about why this is the case is not straight forward. For a long time people made assumptions that while there was a straightforward drop-off when you go into secondary school, yes to some extent there is a change there, but actually the picture's quite complex, and recently Anna Vignoles at the Institute of Education has done an analysis of national data sets and showed that actually the numbers of children who have a statement for Speech, Language and Communication Needs remains relatively stable - doesn't mean the same children have the statement because you get movement in and out across children - but the number of children on school action plus gradually declined from about the age of 7 to around the age of 16 with a pretty much flattening out probably about age 12 or 13. So the question is: what happens to these children? Does the language just improve and they have no more problems? Well it links to the associated difficulties that can go with language.

So a significant proportion have their primary need changed to Specific Learning Difficulties. Typically literacy. And if you think of the relationships between language and literacy, that's why that might happen. Another significant minority will have a primary need of Moderate Learning Difficulty, and again you can see if the communication in the classroom is based around speaking and listening, then that will affect your attainments overall and there for may lead to a change towards Moderate Learning Difficulties. For some children there is a move to the Autistic Spectrum Difficulty group. And finally there is a change to Behaviour, Social and Emotional difficulties. But that's the lowest change. I think that's not what people predicted in the past.

Until fairly recently there hadn't been much research that examined the ways in which speech and language support the written language skills of children. More recently we've begun to understand that there are actually 2 dimensions that impact on writing. So one is the phonological dimension, as I've said children with language difficulties sometimes have problems with phonology. That impacts on their single word reading but also on their spelling. So children with speech and language difficulties can have particular difficulties with spelling and often are missing of the ends of words. The ‘ed's and the ‘s's the ‘ing's. There's another aspect to language which is really to do with the ideas that you can generate through words and grammar. And children who have difficulties expressing those orally are going to have difficulties expressing them in writing too. So that we see that some children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs can write a lot of words but it's not a very rich text, it's not very meaningful and it might not be organised. So there's the spelling, getting the ideas down on paper, and if you spend a lot of effort focusing on the language because it's difficult for you, then the kind of skills that we want older children to do the plan, the revising, may sort of slip by the waste side.

Some children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs will be seeing Speech and Language Therapists, and over the last 5-10 years it's become more important and we've become more aware of the of the need that these Speech, Language Therapists need to be working in the schools. They need to be working with the teachers - it's not an add-on extra. If you like it's the therapist and the teacher developing and understanding what that child needs at that particular point in time. Often the specialist intervention can be given by the parent, they need some extra work, or can be given in the class perhaps by learning support assistant. The teacher will get support about differentiating the curriculum and the Speech and Language Therapist will actually begin to understand what it's like for that child in that classroom learning. So the issue is about communication and profiling a child's needs, not that the child gets taken away for specialist therapy somewhere.

A communication-friendly school

Changes to your teaching practice are always more effective if the environment in which children are educated is also designed and adapted to support communication. This mind map shows some of the things that you should look for when auditing the school.


Communication-friendly school

  • Colour coding and labelling
  • Visual notices
  • Lunchtime clubs
  • Break time activities
  • Buddying
  • Peer mentoring
  • Quiet areas
  • SLCN: parents

    This video provides a practical example of how parent-teacher interaction and good home-school communication can help children with speech and language difficulties. A mother explains how communication with her son has been improved through language games that can be used both in the classroom and at home.

    This video clip relates to task 3 in your PDF of unit 11.

    Show transcript

    Shazia – mother of Owais

    My name is Shazia, and my son Owais is in Reception. He has learning difficulties.

    Teacher-pupil interaction

    Rachel: Are you ready then Owais? Ready…


    When I found out he had problems, it was quite a big thing for me, because it's quite scary, especially learning, and education is a really important part of your life. It was quite worrying, but with all the support I get with the school and Owais progressing and I've actually seen that he's going to be doing ok.

    Teacher-parent interaction

    Hannah: I'm going to play the game with you just like we would with the boys. So you know what it will be like then to play with the boys.

    Sarah Rutty – Head Teacher

    What parents expect from school is clarity of expectation, opportunity to develop themselves and their children, whether that's about attending a parenting class to help them become better parents, or whether it's about working alongside teaching staff to actually understand how to support their children with learning at home.

    Teacher-parent interaction

    Hannah: Go, go, go, go, go, go, go. So the boys are getting really excited. And then when they've pulled it out, you'd say, now what do you think it might be?

    Rachel Drinkwater –Lead Language Practitioner

    A really good idea is to meet with the parents of the children that have the learning difficulties and to meet with the senior leadership team and the teacher, the key worker, and the parents, to work together, to go through activities that the parents might want to carry out at home with the children.

    Teacher-parent interaction

    Teacher: And then we'd say, well let's Owais have a go. And so we pass it to Owais. Say “ready”, “steady”, “go, go, go, go,….”


    So today our Assistant Head Teacher, Hannah, went through the bag game with two of the parents, which is a speech and language focus, focussing on ‘every child a talker', vocabulary and language being the main focus. So Hannah showed the parents how to do the activity, told them about the word level that the children are working on, and how then to deliver it back to the children.

    Teacher-parent interaction

    Hannah: So I'll start off perhaps with Sahill, and say, “Sahill could you find me the brown bear?”


    This happens on a regular basis that the senior leadership team or the class teacher works with the parents to show them activities and games and resources, that they can be using at home.

    Teacher-pupil interaction

    Rachel: Ready…

    Owais: Steady…

    Rachel and Owais: go, go, go…


    And the child can see that this game isn't just for school, it's for at home as well. And the quick progress that they're making if they're running the two alongside each other is vast. And the relationship between the parent and the teacher is even stronger.


    There was a time when Owais's speech and language was really, really poor. But once he's come into nursery and into school he's picked up so well, that me and Owais can have a full conversation now. We're like best friends! So, yes, he's doing well, and I think it's all the support the school's given him.

    Mehnaz – mother of Sahill

    I'm really grateful to all the staff at the school who continue to help Sahill.

    Teacher-pupil interaction

    Rachel: Can you find me the animal that flies?

    Sahill: Bat.


    And my family and my family friends, they come into our house, and they've noticed a huge improvement in Sahill's speech.

    Teacher-parent interaction

    Hannah: This is a resource that we'll be able to send home with you, to borrow.

    Sarah Rutty

    The quality of relationships with parents, the trust, and the expectation between both school and the parents that you're all engaged on that same journey, that you both have the same commitment for and from their children, I think is the key to raising the bar of success for the children that you've got in your care.

    Teacher-parent interaction

    Hannah: Thank you very much, thank you very much for coming in.

    Mehnaz and Shazia: Thank you.