Cavendish Close Infant School and the Balanced System
Cavendish Close Infant School moved into its new building a year ago and a new senior management team was formed in September 2019. There are 320 children at the school, aged three to seven, with a three-class intake across each year group.
Cavendish Close is in one of the original eight wards to benefit from the support offered through the TALK Derby project. These eight wards were selected because they were the most deprived in the city.
The importance of communication in behaviour
Speech, language and communication has always been an important focus at the school and they are now looking good communication as a way to manage behaviour. The school is currently working on changing the staff and parents’ perceptions of behaviour as being 'bad' or 'good'. They want them to recognise there is no benefit to labelling bad or good behaviour and what is needed is to recognise poor or good managementof behaviour and adjust their responses to behaviours accordingly.
To understand and manage behaviour more effectively there is a need to recognise all behaviour is a form of communication which requires a response or a reaction. Understanding this will support us to respond and react more appropriately to individual children's behaviours.
Getting the most out of the balanced system
Caroline Howett, Interim Deputy Head Teacher at Cavendish Close Infant School, is also the lead for speech, language and communication. She started the Balanced System training in Spring 2019 and began the school’s audit in September 2019. The audit is part of the ‘Understand’ phase of the System and breaks down speech, language and communication into three areas: universal; targeted and specialist. It also focuses on themes, such as the school’s environment. This phase aims to identify where each setting is doing well and where they could improve. It then offers ideas and actions to assist the setting in making improvements.
Caroline found the Understand phase went into great depth and really got under the surface of their communications activities. She says: “It was worth doing this phase well and I really liked how it split our activities into specialist, targeted and universal strands. The audit showed we were good at the first two but needed to do more in the universal section – talking more to all pupils and parents, not just those that needed extra support.
“To address this, we are looking at updating our website and where we can use social media channels to talk to parents. We currently send out printed newsletters with web addresses and links in, but realise that parents aren’t always able to access the internet when they received the newsletters and so don’t access the links.”
Caroline and Cavendish Close are currently working on the ‘Plan and Do’ phase of the Balanced System and are already starting to implement the improvements suggested in their audit.
The school is looking to audit the classrooms next and improving training at a universal level. Caroline adds: “We are also training the governors, parents and teaching assistants about the importance of speech, language and communication giving them the tools to action this at home and in the classroom.”
She sees one of the key benefits of the Balanced System being its structured approach, saying: “This has helped me present a strategic approach to speech, language and communication to my colleagues and the governors and demonstrate what a good system could look like.”
Caroline also praises the mentors: “You get excellent support from the mentors. The Balanced System audit can be a long process if you do it thoroughly, but following that process with their help means there is no guesswork.
“I have used audit tools in other areas of education where the audit is great but only takes you so far. With the Balanced System you get actual actions and ideas to help you improve and solve any issues.
“It's an equal system – regardless of your level of knowledge, skills and experience in speech, language and communication, it’s a level playing field.”
Benefits to children, staff and parents of TALK Derby
Although she thinks the benefits to the children and staff will take time to be evident, she can already see the benefits of the support and training they have received through TALK Derby. Three members of staff have been trained through the project – one up to level three and moving on to achieving Communication Friendly Setting training. Two members of the team are trained to deliver the Let’s Talk at Home parent courses which they will deliver at the neighbouring children’s centre.
Parents from the school have already been able to access this training, with one parent from the school completing the course.
As well as working through the Balanced System and accessing the TALK Derby training, Caroline has attended all the champions networking meetings. She sees TALK Derby as the start of putting more emphasis on speech, language and communication across all settings and believes change will take time. She thinks the main impact at the school will be seen in a year’s time and adds: “It takes a lot to change a culture and it’s not just the schools where change needs to happen but also in families and communities.”
And the legacy of TALK Derby? Caroline says the project has led to the school working more closely with the neighbouring junior school and children’s centre and believes this joined up way of working needs to extend to health, social care and education. She adds: “All these areas need to be more integrated and work collaboratively. That will build on what has been started and really make a difference to children’s futures in Derby.”