Derwent Stepping Stones
Stepping Stones has four sites across the City of Derby – three supported by TALK Derby. With 300 children across the site, including 128 at Derwent, they take children from 12 weeks to pre-school.
At Derwent breakfast and after-school clubs also take children up to 14 years old.
Although the nursery is a mix of fee-paying and funded children, the majority come to the Derwent nursery when they received their two-year funding. Many of the children have not been out of the area and the outdoor spaces available to them are not always safe or secure.
Why focus on communication skills?
Stepping Stones, like all early years settings, tracks their children’s development.
Janet Holland, Chief Executive of Stepping Stones, says: “Three years ago over 50% of our children were not meeting development targets for communication and language and so we decided we needed an organisational strategy to improve this.
“We successfully applied for National Lottery funding to test out different actions and interventions and launched the ‘early talkers’ programme. We also bought an assessment and intervention tool to support this and provide us with a clear picture of each child’s development.”
Using this tool they assessed 30 two year olds at one site – 29 showed delayed development in communication and language development, only one was on track.
Janet says: “Using this assessment tool we were also able to gain clear evidence to support requests for special support and, of those 29 children, 10 were then able access to the special services they needed.”
After nine months they re-assessed the children and saw a huge improvement. During this time the Opportunity Area funding for Derby was announced and Janet joined the working group which led to the TALK Derby project.
Janet adds: “We were already seeing the impact of focusing on communication at Stepping Stones and were beginning to understand the work needed to bring about that impact. We are passionate about communication and language and so we knew we would benefit from a project like TALK Derby.”
Stepping Stones has made use of all the support and training made available to them through TALK Derby. They used the Balanced System to audit their current communication and language provision which showed there strengths and the areas they needed to work on. One of these was engaging with staff and so they created a staff newsletter and had individual meetings with staff.
The Balanced System also identified their ‘universal’ work needed more focus. They had worked a lot on ‘targeted’ and ‘special’ interventions and practices, but there were some opportunities to improve communication across the board.
They introduced bedtime story sessions and display boards. They also opened a library – the parents only have to give an email address to join and they can keep books as long as they like.
Three members of staff have taken part in the TALK Derby training through Elklan– with four more starting this term. They have one champion per setting who attends the networking meetings. They have also appointed their own room champions to share the workload and responsibility of the role.
And they are planning to achieve the Communications Friendly Setting status.
Janet adds: “We are working towards this as we think it is valuable to us as a nursery, however some of the criteria required don’t quite fit with how we work and new OFSTED requirements and so we are talking to Elklan about how we can achieve it and still be ‘Stepping Stones’”.
They currently don’t have the capacity to run their own ‘Let’s Talk at Home’ course but are working with the neighbouring children’s centre to hold courses at Stepping Stones. It will start after half term.
By using its own work on speech, language and communications, combined with the resources and support from TALK Derby, Stepping Stones now has three key questions it is focused on:
- What is school readiness?
- How are we going to engage boys?
- How are we going to measure impact?
And it has a list of new ideas they are looking to introduce over the coming terms. Being able to accurately evaluate the children’s development, and finding a high number of children join them at aged two with special education needs, also has led them to recruiting an additional Special Education Needs Co-ordinator (SENCo) to support the existing SENCo lead.
Janet says: “The only way we could do all this is to show leadership. You can send your staff to training but if we are not supporting them and driving change then it doesn’t improve things.
“The current cohort of children about to move to Foundation level are the first to have been supported by TALK Derby. And while improvements in their communication skills may not be down to TALK Derby alone, it is a real chance to see what its impact has been.”
Janet’s final words sum up the Stepping Stones approach: “We know we are making a different to these children – we want to make a bigger difference.”