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Talk-Away: a new way of working with parents and children

Lisa Dobraszczyk discusses an initiative that helps parents to encourage their children towards life-long learning

Talk-Away is an intervention that, by primarily targeting parents, aims to raise children’s levels of language and communication skills in the Foundation Stage. It is based at an Oxford primary school in one of the lowest 10% of wards in England, according to measures of multiple deprivation.

The project arose from collaboration between the head teacher, school staff and an SLT. The head acquired initial funding in 2000, with part of the SLT’s time coming from the Education Action Zone (now known as the Excellence Cluster). From April 2003, the DfES funded Talk-Away for two years as one of 16 early years and parents pilot projects.

Talk-Away has developed an accredited course that can provide parents with a qualification through the Open College Network (OCN). This is particularly relevant in an area where nearly half of adults have no other qualifications.

I became involved with Talk-Away in January 2004, together with a recently appointed specialist early years teacher. The current model began as an accredited course in September 2004.

Talk-Away is a 10-week programme running for two hours each week. Two groups run simultaneously on different mornings with up to six parents and children in each. The Foundation Stage teacher and Talk-Away staff discuss which families they feel would most benefit from attending. The children usually have one or more of the following: delayed receptive and/or expressive language skills; delayed listening, attention

The progress in children’s language and communication skills has been very positive and the benefits for the parents numerous.

and turn-taking skills; difficulties with social interaction; or lack of confidence in communicating.

Parents can attend an informal coffee morning to learn more about Talk-Away before committing to attend. Formal assessment of the children’s language skills takes place at the start of the programme and six months after they leave, using the Pre- School Language Scales-3 (UK) and Renfrew Action Picture Test. A crèche caters for younger siblings.

Talk-Away teacher Anne Wells and I developed Helping your Child with Language and Communication Skills, a course accredited through the OCN at entry level and level 1. We devised learning outcomes

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and assessment criteria for each session for both levels. To gain the slightly higher accreditation at level 1 parents have to demonstrate greater awareness of why communication skills are important and provide clear evidence as to how they have tried to put the skills into practice.

The course informs parents in a simple and accessible way about the skills that help language development, such as the importance of non-verbal communication, helping play and interaction, and the use of rhymes, songs and descriptive commenting. Figure one shows an extract of the course content.

Each week there is a time for parents and staff to discuss the course focus. We ask parents to fill in a weekly handout to add to their folders to show they have understood that week’s focus and tried to put it into practice with their child. We give them as much help as needed with reading and writing and add photographic records, taken throughout the course, to their folders.

At the end of the course the Foundation Stage teacher internally assesses the folders before external assessment by an OCN moderator, to award either an entry level or level 1 certificate. Completion of a folder to gain a certificate is optional, but we encourage parents to do so.

Since introducing the course, it has given us a greater focus on the information we are trying to share with the parents. It also lessens the feeling that we are making judgements about their skills, because they feel they are gaining something personal and worthwhile from attending, in addition

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