Bitesize Training: Every Child a Talker (ECAT)

This is an excerpt from our “Bitesize Training: Every Child a Talker (ECAT)” which equips practitioners with a deeper understanding of speech development and a raft of strategies to promote communication and language, including assessment materials. Full training (in-person and digital) can be booked here.

What is ECAT?

Every Child a Talker (ECAT) is a universal speech, language and communication development programme. Initially launched as a national project by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) in 2008, funding was assigned to Local Authorities with relatively poor results against language elements of the EYFS Profile. Norfolk was deemed eligible and received funding to deliver a speech language and communication training and support project to a number of early years settings.

ECAT was delivered in Norfolk as an initial 12-month programme delivered by early language consultants (speech and language therapists and specialist teachers) working alongside identified practitioners in nominated early years settings. Staff received training and on-going support, resources to facilitate change in the environment and an assessment of all children’s language and communication skills in the setting (using the ECAT monitoring form). It was followed by the ‘Talk About Project’ which was funded by Norfolk County Council for two years but ended following budget cuts.

Training offered included:

  • Hanen Teacher Talk
  • Every Child A Talker (ECAT) Monitoring
  • Signalong
  • Working with Selective Mutism
  • Early Language Development Programme
  • Expressive Language and Vocabulary Difficulties
  • Speech Sound Difficulties
  • Attention and Listening Difficulties
  • Difficulties Understanding Language
  • Working with Autism and Social Communication Difficulties
  • Working with Stammering
  • Working in Groups to Support Children’s Language
  • Elklan: Speech and Language Support for Under 5s (10 week, level 3 course)

What is the purpose of ECAT?

  • Raise children’s achievement in early language
  • Raise practitioners’ skills and knowledge
  • Increase parental understanding and involvement in children’s language development

The ECAT programme and tool’s purpose is to assist practitioners in identifying and supporting children who are experiencing difficulties in developing their speech, language and communication skills. As professionals we know that speaking, listening and interacting well with others are fundamental skills which are the building blocks to enjoying and achieving in both the early years and in later life. The early childhood years are a critical period for the development of these skills and the best time to implement interventions to support children who are experiencing difficulties. 

SLCN stands for Speech, Language and Communication Needs and refers to difficulties with understanding spoken language, as well as using language in a social context. There is a wide spectrum of SLCN, which can incorporate children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, those with hearing problems and other specific disabilities. For children struggling with these issues, it is more likely that they will have persistent SLCN, and it is estimated that this form of SLCN affects up to 10% of all children.

Transitory SLCN refers to children who have speech and language skills that are slow to develop but with the correct support can catch up. They may struggle to speak clearly, talk in sentences or understand what is being said to them. It is estimated that more than half of children in some parts of the UK have transitory SLCN when they start school.

Just how common are speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)? 

  • 50% of children in areas of social disadvantage start school with language delay, that is with language that isn’t adequate for the next stage of learning, for thinking, reasoning and communicating effectively with adults and peers. For example, children from low income families are on average 19 months behind children from the richest families in their use of vocabulary by the age of five. All these children are at a disadvantage from the start and without the right support don’t catch up with their peers.
  • 7% of all children have a speech and language impairment; it’s the most prevalent childhood disability, but a condition that is much misunderstood. These children can have a rich communication experience, with lots of support from parents, but despite this will have a specific language impairment. They are developing typically in other ways, for example, they have no additional learning, physical or sensory difficulties. They also start school without the language they need in order to learn and are disadvantaged from the start. Children within this group have differing needs, dependent on the nature and severity of their difficulties. They need specialist support in order to learn and communicate to the very best of their ability. 
  • At least 3% of all children have SLCN linked with other impairments, including those with hearing impairment, autistic spectrum disorders, specific learning difficulties, such as dyslexia and general learning needs. In fact, the majority of children with SEN have some degree of SLCN. They too need support in order to learn and to communicate to the very best of their ability. Of these children anestimated 1% of children have the most severe and complex SLCN which prevent them from expressing their basic needs.
  • The Communication Trust’s Talk of the Town project, an average of around 40% of children with SLCN were not being identified; most difficult to spot were older students, students who had difficulties with vocabulary (45% not identified), those who struggled with formulating sentences (52% not identified) and children with difficulties understanding (29%). This under identification was happening despite committed staff teams.
  • Ofsted also reported examples of children’s SLCN being misinterpreted; some children and young people “were allocated support for their behaviour when, in fact, they had specific communication needs.”


How do these national figures compare to your setting’s levels of children with SLCN? 

If your setting’s SEND register or census data is much lower than the national figures, it might be that there are unusually low numbers of children in your setting with SLCN. However, it may well be that you are missing identifying some children’s needs. Either way, it would be an extremely useful exercise to review your identification policy and ensure that you have the right process and procedures in place for identifying children who may have needs.

What is the impact of untreated speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)? 

Research has shown a strong correlation between children with SLCN and a range of problems in adult life, including emotional and behavioural difficulties, limited employment prospects, mental health issues and crime. 

EducationSocial relationshipsCriminal activity
The results of transitory SLCN in education are pronounced. Almost all children with SLCN will have some difficulty with reading and writing, which in turn affects their abilities in other areas of their education. It is estimated that between 50% and 90% of children with persistent SLCN will have trouble with reading, whilst issues with vocabulary and concept formulation naturally affect a child’s ability to grasp mathematical theories. If they do not get the support they need within the school system, they may have lower exam pass rates and are less likely to go on into higher education than their peers.  Limited communication skills can also affect a child’s social life. Whilst children who have adequate or good communication skills can learn and communicate together with ease, those with SLCN often find themselves isolated from a young age. They are also more likely to be bullied. In older children, a combination of isolation and low self-esteem can cause them to act in ways outside of socially accepted behaviours, in order to get respect or find their niche with their peers. As adults, research shows that people with poor basic skills are statistically less likely to have a long-term partner, and those that do tend to have more children at a younger age. In a recent Education and Skills Committee Report, a strong connection was noted between poor language and communication skills and youth crime. Up to 25% of young offenders were found to have special educational needs, of which only 60% had been diagnosed with these issues. By the same token, 50% of the general UK prison population were found to have literacy issues, compared with just 17% of the general population. There is also good evidence to suggest that prisoners who take part in education and training whilst in custody are less likely to reoffend. In one study, recidivism rates amongst ex-prisoners who took an education course whilst in prison ran at 28%, whilst the national average for offenders was 44%. 

Struggling to communicate effectively leads to frustration as without good speech and language skills children and young adults find it hard to explain how they are feeling. This can lead to ‘acting out’, unwanted behaviour or withdrawing and becoming isolated. This is why it is so important to ensure the earliest intervention possible.

How can we support SLCN?


• how do staff keep their knowledge and understanding of children’s developing communication and language in the early years refreshed and up-to-date?

• how do you provide an effective environment, activities and strategies which support the development of communication and language?

• how effective are you in finding ways to engage parents to support their child’s learning at home?

Further reading

©Newton Oakley Education, 2020


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