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South Yorkshire joins forces for early years

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26 October 2021

South Yorkshire joins forces for early years

Sheffield Hallam University and South Yorkshire’s four local authorities have created a new regional strategy to improve speech, language and communication (SLC) for children under five

Press contact: Laura Burden | l.s.burden@shu.ac.uk

A young child in a yellow plastic playground tunnel, smiling at the camera

The Regional Speech, Language and Communications Skills Strategy is the culmination of a £1million project, funded by the Department for Education and led by the University’s social mobility partnership South Yorkshire Futures. It aims to improve SLC skills for children in early years settings across South Yorkshire.

Almost 30% of children in South Yorkshire do not currently achieve the expected levels of development in communication, language and literacy each year. The new strategy outlines the steps being taken to address this challenge and will be delivered by professionals from education and health.

This new regional strategy, delivered by a multidisciplinary team including professionals from education and health, aims to meet the collective and individual needs of children and families across the region.

To create the strategy, the team gathered data from over 800 early years professionals in South Yorkshire to understand their confidence with the key skills and knowledge needed to support SLC development in the early years. As a result, the strategy details a set of key principles, based on the results of the skills audit, to ensure all those working within early years have the skills and confidence to recognise, and where appropriate, assess and address children’s SLC needs.

Supporting and developing a highly skilled and representative education workforce for the region is one of the University’s key commitments in its recently launched Civic University Agreement.

Alongside the regional skills strategy, the project team has created a website to help parents, carers and early years professionals in the region to support the development of children’s SLC skills. The four local authorities (Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Barnsley) each have a dedicated section to support people in their area.

The new website gives parents and carers the information they need to help their child’s SLC development through top tips, fun activities, and details of local support services. Early years professionals can use the website to identify their personal development needs, find local training opportunities, and access tailored guidance for their role. 

Richard Calvert, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University, said: “I am delighted that, in partnership with South Yorkshire’s four local authorities, we are able to launch this Regional Speech, Language and Communications Skills Strategy today. 

"Too many children in South Yorkshire still face significant barriers to fulfilling their potential. This strategy and the supporting resources will allow us to improve knowledge and services across the region, ensuring that children receive the right support to build the communications skills they need in the vital early years stage.”

Cllr Trevor Cave, Cabinet Spokesperson for Children’s Services at Barnsley Council, said: “We’re extremely pleased to be part of this regional strategy. We have a strong focus on early years and early help here in Barnsley, and this collaborative strategy helps us build on those strengths. We want Barnsley to be the place of possibilities for everyone, and to give children the best start in life. Early language skills and providing support are crucial to that. I hope families in Barnsley will find these resources helpful.”

Stephanie Douglas, Head of Service Intervention and Localities at Doncaster Council, said: “We are delighted to be part of this regional project. Early language skills are very important to children’s development and learning, and the sooner we are able to identify and intervene with children facing any difficulties with speech, language and communication, the greater chance we have of supporting and enabling them to achieve their full potential. 

"The website and the pathway will allow us to build on existing strengths within our early intervention systems and will enhance training, practice and skills across the South Yorkshire regional workforce through collaboration and partnership. This will strengthen our ability to provide the right help at the right time to the right children.”

Councillor Victoria Cusworth, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Rotherham Council, said: “Good speech, language and communication skills are vital for a child’s wellbeing. These skills shape a child’s ability to learn, develop friendships and their future life choices.

"It’s so important that children falling behind key milestones receive help and support early and I’m delighted Rotherham Council is part of this initiative to ensure more children get the best start in life.”

Councillor Jayne Dunn, Executive Member for Education, Children and Families at Sheffield City Council, said: “What a great initiative this is, and I am so pleased that the children, parents, carers and early years providers in Sheffield will benefit from this great new resource.

"Good communications skills developed during a child’s early years will set them up for life and this collaborative approach will provide even stronger foundations for our children to learn from.

"It also demonstrates our commitment as a council a working in partnership, providing support with a focus on prevention and sharing best practice around development of children’s speech, language and communication skills to ensure that families achieve the best outcomes for their children.”

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