Published on: 01 May 2015

Despite being so common, it is hard to identify students that are struggling to develop their speech, language and communication skills

Using Baseline to help you identify children with speech, language and communication difficulties

By The Communication Trust. 

Speech, language and communication difficulties are common, but not always easy to spot in busy classrooms. Using Baseline to assess reception pupils provides a valuable opportunity to begin to identify any children who may be struggling with their speech and language development and who may need their teacher to take a more detailed look at what they are finding difficult.

Here are some important things for teaching staff to consider and look out for during Baseline.

The assessment tasks rely on a child being able to understand and respond to instructions given by an adult. The child needs to use their language and communication skills throughout the assessment and it’s therefore important to be aware that a child who struggles with any area of the assessment may have an underlying speech, language difficulty; incorrect responses during literacy and mathematics sections, as well as language and communication may actually indicate issues with speech and language.

For example:

A number of early mathematics concepts are really language-based, so if a child is struggling with mathematics items focusing on concepts such as ‘big’, ‘most’, ‘tall and short’ then it would be worth looking at their understanding of language concepts in more detail.

If a child is struggling with repeating nonsense words or isolating phonemes, this may indicate underlying or remaining difficulties with speech sounds. Some children with speech sound difficulties also find it difficult to isolate ‘first’ and ‘last’ sounds in words. It would be useful to check out if they are making errors with their speech or have a history of speech difficulties which might be impacting on their ability to process and manipulate sounds that they hear.

If a child is struggling to respond, particularly to items with more information or longer instructions, this may suggest they have difficulties with attention and listening or understanding vocabulary, and perhaps struggle to process information. If they struggle in a structured 1:1 situation, they’ll find listening to and understanding information in a classroom particularly difficult.

Clearly, low scores within the Language and Communication section will raise concerns. It will be really useful, where possible, to think about the kinds of errors pupils are making and whether for example there are particular aspects that the child finds difficult or whether this is more generalised across different areas of language. This is really useful to support what to look at in more detail, through observation or further assessment, to identify possible speech, language and communication needs.

Baseline allows teaching staff to gather a snapshot of a child’s speech, language and communication skills and helps to gain an initial picture of how a child is doing with these skills on an individual basis. During everyday observations you will also gather information about a wider range of speech, language and communication skills.

For example:

  • Whether  they can organise their language to talk about something that has already happened 
  • Whether they use their language and communication skills to form friendships and play with their peers.
  • Whether they understand and use the non –verbal communication skills, such as facial expressions, eye contact and gestures, we’d expect for their age

These are useful additional skills to be aware of in identifying children with speech, language and communication needs.

If concerns arise either when using Baseline, or during more general observations of a child, the resources below are helpful in providing more information about the speech, language and communication skills expected for 4 and 5 year olds:

If, following assessment, there are continuing concerns about a child’s speech, language and communication skills, raise concerns with colleagues and parents and begin discussions to ensure that suitable support can be put in place at the earliest possible time for the child.

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