Expert called in over speech fears

By Amy Hetherington   |   Reporter   |
Wednesday 25th May 2022 10:02 am
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New speech and language therapist for DMAT
Speech and language therapist Katy Mullin (Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust )

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West Devon school bosses have called in an expert over fears that nursery and reception children are behind in their speech and language understanding following covid lockdowns.

The Dartmoor Multi Academy Trust (DMAT) employed speech and language therapist Katy Mullin after teachers raised concerns over the increasing number of children starting school post-pandemic with lower-than-expected speech and language development.

Derrick Brett, executive principal at Okehampton College, said: ‘There has always been a problem but post-pandemic we have noticed an increase because the children have not been able to socialise and play with one another during the lockdowns.

‘We felt we needed to be proactive. It’s about catching issues earlier.’

But waiting times for therapy have lengthened as concerns rise over stunted speech and language development and parents and teachers have turned towards specialist help.

DMAT executives have taken the initiative and hired the trust’s first speech and language therapist to allow pupils to access help earlier and provide teachers with more advanced skills to help struggling children.

Mr Brett added: ‘Sometimes, it’s easier to do it yourself.’

It is hoped that this will help children to reach the appropriate speech and language skills required to succeed at secondary school.

Ms Mullin, who started in March, is based at St James CoE Primary School in Okehampton but is also working with children across all seventeen of the DMAT-run schools including those around the Tavistock area.

Ms Mullin said: ‘The service will have to be equitable across the trust, but needs to be child-specific regardless of geography and will not be limited to primary-aged children.’

DMAT bosses have also successfully applied for a grant from the Laurel Trust, which is funding a research project to discover at what age speech and language therapy is most effective.

Mr Brett said: ‘We are very fortunate in receiving this grant as it will support the work we were planning to do and the research project will be beneficial for the Trust and beyond. We want to be efficient in the way we deliver interventions and the more research we can do in that so we can get the best results for our pupils, is positive.’

Martin Evely and Suzie Stevens, the headteachers of Okehampton Primary School and St James CoE Primary School respectively, are leading the research which is focused on nursery and reception-aged children and being piloted in four of DMAT’s primary schools.The research is still in its early stages and no firm conclusions have yet been reached.

Experts have already warned the series of Covid-19 lockdowns will have a detrimental effect on education across the UK. Charity YoungMinds, in a letter to the Government, said: ‘We are concerned that, with most young people not currently attending school and many young people not having access to resources and materials with which to learn, there will be a subsequent detrimental effect on both academic attainment and wellbeing.’

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