Children who have low-average communication skills are at increased risk of later academic failure and behavioural difficulties and may benefit from targeted communication intervention programmes at the point of school entry. There is limited evidence to support the use of similar language programmes with older children who have weak language skills at Key Stage 2 of the National Curriculum UK.
The aim of this exploratory small-scale trial was to explore the effects of a manualised intervention delivered by trained teaching assistants in mainstream schools for children aged between 7 and 9 years who were identified as having weak oral language skills.
Twenty-one UK mainstream primary schools each selected eight year 3 and year 4 children with weak oral language skills using selection criteria from the Speech Language and Communication Progression Tools (SLCPT). Nominated school staff received training in the new manualised intervention, Talk Boost KS2, then schools were allocated randomly to an Active Intervention (AI) condition or a Waiting Control condition (WC). AI participants received three 40-minute Talk Boost 2 KS2 intervention sessions per week for eight weeks in small groups. Baseline measures were teacher-reported communication skills on the SLCPT, subtests of the Assessment of Comprehension and Expression (ACE) and the York Assessment of Reading Comprehension (YARC). Outcome measures were completed by evaluation assistants or teachers blind to allocation at the end of A1 or WC and included re-assessment on SLCPT, ACE and YARC, a teacher-reported Learning Behaviours Checklist and a Parent Rating Scale of changes in communication skills. At Time 2, the first AI group ended all intervention and the WC group commenced Talk Boost KS2 intervention. A subset of AI children was followed up one term after the end of intervention (Time 3).
Outcomes and results
Progress in favour of the intervention was found on teacher ratings of speech, language and communication needs (SLCPT) and on the Learning Behaviours Checklist but not on language test scores. Parents of AI children reported improvements in communication and language skills. Reading comprehension scores showed improvement at Time 3 follow up in the active intervention condition. Teaching staff reported significant increases in confidence and knowledge in managing children with weak oral language skills as a result of being involved in the intervention. The findings are discussed in relation to the imperative to provide practical language intervention tools, training and support for education staff.