Longmoor Primary School is a larger than average school in the heart of a strong and vibrant North Liverpool community. We’ve been here for over a hundred years; generations of families have attended Longmoor, all of whom have been very supportive of our aims and share our aspirations for their children.
The number of children we have registered for free school meals is significantly higher than the national average, some from quite complex family backgrounds – yet that makes us all the more more determined to ensure all of our pupils get the same great start to their education that every child is entitled to.
I joined Longmoor in September 2015, making this my fourth year in post. Prior to my appointment, my predecessor and her leadership team had in 2011 initiated a communication project that eventually turned into the provision we offer today. They were looking for ways to improve pupil progress in reading and writing, and identified as one of the major barriers the low level of communication skills of pupils entering the school.
She was able to draw upon the services of our LA’s principal speech therapist, Christine Taylor, who worked alongside Longmoor staff to develop what was effectively the first iteration of our communication programme. Every child in nursery and reception – 90 pupils in total – was screened, after which it emerged that over 50% of children in both cohorts weren’t at age-related expectations for speech and language.
The next step was to design a programme of interventions tailored to the needs of individual children, such as I CAN’s Talk Boost (icancharity.org.uk) and Blank Level Questions. All staff were trained to deliver the programme, and further investment was made in appointing a dedicated communication and language assistant (CLA) to work with those children needing the most support. The model became one that involved assessing pupils on entry, identifying appropriate interventions, delivering them and then checking on progress and outcomes. It’s been refined and tweaked over the years since, but the essential principles remain unchanged.
For example, the battery of assessment tests we initially used to measure pupils’ speech and language levels were accurate, but the process took up to 30 minutes per child to complete. Our SENCo, Heather Gough, met with representatives of Stoke Speaks Out (stokespeaks.org – themselves winners of ‘SLCN Initiative of the Year’ at the 2018 Shine a Light Awards) to see what they had done. Following that meeting we switched to using their Early Learning Screen, with the result that the process now takes just 5 to 10 minutes per child.
Maintaining the momentum
Having seen the benefits of our early years communication provision, I wanted to maintain the momentum and give communication the same high profile throughout the school, as I believe the ability to communicate effectively makes a huge difference to children’s life chances.
We did this in small steps at first, by promoting school council elections and the process of writing and delivering a speech. We then began to develop our oracy curriculum through debating and drama. Now, having joined the Voice Liverpool programme, we feel there’s been a step-change in the profile of oracy across the school, and that the confidence and articulacy of all pupils is noticeably developing.
The original ‘seed money’ for our early years communication provision came from Pupil Premium funding, a proportion of which we still use to cover the costs of our CLA and ongoing training and resources. We feel that our continued investment in this provision has been more than repaid by the outcomes we’re now seeing throughout the school.
Budgets are getting tighter, of course, so we try to be selective and invest in a small number of high-quality initiatives, rather than take a ‘scattergun’ approach. Voice Liverpool is a great example – when I saw that the charities SHINE and Voice 21 were launching a city-wide education programme to boost students’ spoken language skills and literacy, I knew I wanted Longmoor to be a part of it. It’s been a significant investment in terms of staff time for training and development, but very much worthwhile in that we’re now part of a wellsupported, evidence-based initiative.
We tend to focus our investment on staff development and training, rather than spending large sums on equipment or one-off services. That’s because we know that the most effective way to accelerate pupil progress and improve outcomes is through high quality teaching. We’ve also been extremely fortunate in being able to collaborate with a wide range of skilled and experienced partners, who have supported us in building a really effective, good value provision for all our pupils, including those with SEN.
I’ve always believed in giving children as many opportunities as possible to take on responsibilities themselves. This promotes self-confidence, teaches children the value of being of service to others and allows them to practise essential life skills. For example, when recruiting play leaders from among the children, we advertised the post and had pupils write letters of application and attend interviews.
Just recently, I whisked some of the successful applicants into a KS1 assembly to explain what the role involves and demonstrate some new playground equipment to them. They presented with such confidence and poise at a moment’s notice – that’s when I knew that everything we’re doing to promote high standards in communication is paying dividends.
If you build it, they will come
In terms of our parental outreach, perhaps the most important initiative is our weekly Lego Club, run by our SENCo. It’s a really simple idea – families come into school and build Lego models together – but the beauty of it is that parents who might otherwise be reluctant to come into school for a formal meeting are happy to have a quick chat with Mrs. Gough at Lego Club for some advice or support.
The positive relationships that are built there can also be really helpful when we’re trying to support families in difficult circumstances, or who have children with SEN. We’ve found that many of our families from overseas will attend the club because they may not know anyone locally. The club offers a great opportunity to meet other parents, particularly through the friendships their children have formed.
Liz Grundy is the headteacher of Longmoor Primary School in Aintree, which was recently announced as the 2019 Primary School of the Year at the Shine a Light Awards, organised by Pearson and the Communication Trust