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How can you get the necessary commitment and involvement from teachers in special education to make joint working more effective and rewarding? Gillian Bolton reflects on the drivers for her APEC2 training package and, together with Susan Kidd, offers inspiration and practical suggestions.

Susan Kidd offers training

A special ed
hen I talk to therapists working in special education, a picture often emerges of large, complex caseloads and an annual review commitment which absorbs most - sometimes all - of their allocated sessions. I found myself in the same position when I took responsibility for speech and language therapy provision at Brooke Special School in 1996 and decided, after my first year with them, that it was time to make significant changes in service provision. I distributed a questionnaire inviting staff to give their views on the service. It provided a shared perspective on the problems, and justification for some radical changes. It also confirmed what I suspected about my review reports - they were detailed and comprehensive but not particularly useful to someone outside our profession. For a year I stopped writing reviews in order to get other projects up and running. Each new initiative was discussed and agreed at a termly meeting with the head, senior teachers, myself, the speech and language therapy assistant and the head of the speech and language therapy service, giving a sense of joint ownership to each project. One change was to dramatically increase staff training. When therapists offer training to teachers, it is often perceived as an attempt to address the shortfall in speech and language therapy provision. However I was fortunate that the head recognised and promoted the understanding that training was being offered in spite of a shortfall in speech and language therapy provision, not because of it. I had worked with Clare Latham and Ann Miles while they were developing a communication framework for The Redway School (1997; 2001). Brooke School agreed to adopt this framework and it became the foundation for communication environment assessments, staff training, lesson planning, staff / student interaction therapy sessions and so on. In future years my annual review reports were based on a framework and terminology staff now understood. There were challenges - as there are in any work environment - but I was able to feel my work was effective and that the changes I influenced might stay in place after I had moved on. I have since developed a package which is now being used by other speech and language therapists to train teachers, classroom assistants and speech and language therapy assistants. Assessing and Promoting Effective Communication (APEC), revised in 2004 (APEC2), has been very well received by speech and language therapists and participants. Some therapists are now looking at using it with staff working with children with special needs in mainstream education and with staff who work with adults with learning disabilities. I have designed APEC2 to be a comprehensive and user-friendly course. It includes a training video made with the support of the technician, Ann Miles (teacher), Rachel Key (speech and language therapist) and other staff and students of different ages at The Redway School. The package also includes a trainer’s manual, handouts, a written assessment and certificates.

Gillian Bolton




Figure 1 Communication, Curriculum and Classroom Practice - The Assessment Framework Band One Developmental Language Stage Pre-level One Indicators QCA* Method of Communication For students who are pre-verbal i.e. those who are not yet using a formal means of communication (signs, symbols, words) including those who are: 0 to five months P1 P2 Pre-intentional: those students who are not communicating deliberately - they rely on us interpreting their needs from their facial expressions, their actions and the sounds they make such as crying or giggling Intentional: students who communicate purposefully (deliberately) For students who are beginning to use formal methods of communication, e.g. words, symbols and signs that they have learnt For students who have an increasing vocabulary and are linking words/signs/symbols into simple phrases or sentences For students with increasingly complex language skills

Five to nine months



Nine to 18 months



18 to 36 months

P5 P6 P7 P8


Three to five years

*Qualifications and Curriculum Authority’s Pre-level One Indicators, DfEE, 1998

Clear framework
On completing the course, participants have a clear framework for assessing communication skills, and understand the approaches to teaching and intervention set out in Latham & Miles (2001). In addition they have developed or revised their knowledge of normal development of play and communication and communication breakdowns and difficulties, and further developed their skills in effective interaction with students. Participants have the opportunity to observe and assess students in each band (figure 1) and to differentiate their approach, teaching style, and classroom activities. I first met speech and language therapist Susan Kidd when I delivered a training day in Preston. She has now run the APEC course three times, training 32 staff in Peartree School, Kirkham. When we reflected on the process of implementation, four main themes emerged: 1. The unexpected learning outcomes for trainers 2. The role of staff training in promoting shared understanding and joint working 3. The advantages of extended training 4. Gaining commitment to training and joint working. 1. The unexpected learning outcomes for trainers My original questionnaire highlighted the erratic, hurried and irregular nature of discussions between myself and staff. In contrast, I have since found that weekly training sessions provide planned, focused and comprehensive discussion. An ongoing dialogue develops over ten weeks with information passing both ways. When I wrote APEC, I had a clear idea about what I wanted participants to learn, but had not anticipated how much I would learn. I learn about their previous training experiences, their perspective on their role, their professional challenges, and their level of understanding of communication development, breakdown, assessment and intervention. During training sessions, special education assistants frequently describe: • Lack of involvement in assessments despite having useful and unique observations to contribute • Varying levels of involvement in setting individual education plans. Some discuss and agree individual education plans, while others never see them. • Lack of explanation of the purpose of activities they are given to carry out with students • Feeling empowered by what they learn during training sessions. For example, one special education assistant realised that a student’s challenging behaviour at snack time had occurred when the class ‘moved on’ to using symbols. The student was becoming distressed and sometimes throwing her drink. Recognising that the student was unable to understand and use symbols, the assistant suggested they allow her to continue indicating her preference by pointing to the bottles of juice - and the ‘problem’ was solved. Teachers and special education assistants frequently describe: • A wide variety in the type of in service training they have received with previous courses often not relevant to special needs.

• The teaching style and approach suitable to a student’s level of ability was rarely discussed unless AAC equipment was being introduced or reviewed. During APEC courses, participants spontaneously and openly begin the process of critically evaluating their current approach and teaching style. • Uncertainty over what level of language to use with different students. For example, one participant said, “When all staff were able to get together to think of the language level of each pupil in the class it then helped us to plan all curriculum activities, as communication is the foundation of all we do.” • Classroom environments, language levels and curriculum based activities not addressing the needs of students at the earliest levels of development (Redway bands one and two). One participant commented that APEC “has given me the confidence to follow my instincts, not just follow the curriculum blindly without thinking of the child’s level of communication.” • Limited opportunities and lack of a suitable environment for child led, play based interaction. One school responded by developing unused rooms as playrooms and making more play materials accessible. • Different assessments and record forms being used across the school, with subsequent difficulties sharing information when students change class. Staff then spend a long time getting to know their students, identifying their level of functioning and filling in record forms. • Reservations about the appropriateness of play for older students. My opinion was that anxiety over age appropriateness was a problem for the onlooker not for the student, and should not prevent someone exploring and learning at their true developmental level. However, while filming the APEC2 training video I had many opportunities to observe sessions in which student led, play based interaction was achieved with older students using interesting, age appropriate materials. 2. The role of staff training in promoting shared understanding and joint working In APEC2, participants look at the advantages of The Redway framework. ‘Communication, Curriculum and Classroom Practice’ (Latham & Miles, 2001) advocates a shared framework and underlying knowledge base, shared responsibility and integrated working: The development of communication is valued, not just as a vehicle for teaching the curriculum but as the core of the curriculum. For children with severe and profound learning difficulties this is crucial for their happiness and quality of life as well as their education. This framework facilitates joint assessment and planning involving teachers, speech and language therapists, assistants and parents, and encourages users to ensure students become active communicators, generalising skills across different contexts. It is appropriate right across the age and ability range in a special school, so completed assessments are passed on and continuity of approach from one class to the next is facilitated. It emphasises the teaching styles and interactive techniques that are most effective and highlights the importance of play and cognitive development and the link between these and language development. The Redway framework addresses communication skills, cognitive skills, and literacy skills and shows clearly how these are interrelated. Sample lesson plans and suggested activities are included.



I have used APEC in three special schools and receive feedback via other therapists who use it. This has been overwhelmingly positive, even from staff who have worked in special education for many years. They say they welcome training which: a) is specifically relevant to children with special needs b) addresses the very wide range of ability within a special school. As one participant commented, “It’s great – so good to receive something that reminds us that Special Ed is different – not just trying to ‘keep up’ with mainstream.” Feedback also shows that teachers and assistants appreciate information on the normal development of play and language skills and the link between play, cognitive development and language. Teachers enjoy and benefit from the opportunity to revisit, reflect on and revise their professional knowledge and opinions. Special education assistants particularly welcome certificated training.

Time well spent
Speech and language therapist Susan Kidd writes: “I have been working in schools for children with severe learning disabilities and profound and multiple learning disabilities for seven years with a great belief in the importance of training and joint working. However, over the years I have just been able to grab the odd slot on inset days or twilight sessions, and have always felt that these were not enough and devalued my role in the schools. As the APEC package is set over a ten-week period with weekly follow-up activities, the staff and management have to be committed to investing time and effort into learning more about communication. Of all the courses I have run, the feedback was the most positive and all participants felt their time was well spent. The APEC course is extremely easy to use and as a busy therapist this is essential. Each of the ten sessions is planned in detail and participants build up their own folder of over 60 handouts. The course guide is very clearly written and the sessions flow well with practical activities, videos, discussion topics and information giving. Each week a follow-up activity, linked with the topics covered, gives staff the chance to relate information to the children in their class. They also give weekly feedback to their class team about what they have learnt. Staff commented that taking time to observe their pupil’s communication, with a clear assessment structure, was invaluable as before they had felt it was not their role. The course provided sufficient time to allow them to do this confidently. Assessing the children in this way then informs their target writing as they have a clearer understanding of levels of communication. The main benefit for me as a school based therapist is that I now find joint working much easier as we all have a shared understanding of communication levels and the style of teaching we should adopt to bring the most out of our pupils. Staff now have a greater understanding of issues such as intentionality, language concepts, play skills and how we can assess and promote these in the classroom.” 3. The advantages of extended training The APEC course is delivered through ten one-and-ahalf hour sessions over a term giving a total of 15 hours of training, with additional time spent on follow-up activities and feedback to class bases. In contrast, an inset day does not provide anywhere near this level of contact or continuity and does not guarantee carryover of information into classroom practice. Feedback has been consistently positive, for example, “The homework activities

have really helped. They’ve made me really think about the children in my group and to carry out more observations during the weeks between classes. The homework activities have also made the work sink in a lot more.” In each session participants discuss their follow-up activities, and this acknowledges and values their commitment and shows the course leader how well information has been understood and integrated into classroom practice. Discussion about individual students’ levels of ability and needs is actively encouraged. Course leaders bring sessions to life with their own examples and experience and can relate the course work to students and situations that participants know. Course leaders have found that: • Through focused observation of students and better understanding of normal development, participants often re-evaluate a student’s level of ability. Initially staff were overestimating the language ability of some students with autistic spectrum disorder due to the length and clarity of their echolalic utterances, and underestimating the ability of preverbal students because of a lack of understanding of non verbal communication: “(I have learnt that) non-verbal communication could be respected as a growing, developing skill too.” • Participants demonstrate and report increased confidence, increased awareness of students’ levels of comprehension, and better understanding of why their students have communication difficulties. • Participants are keen to alter their approach/teaching style/language level and find the results very rewarding: “It has made me more aware that each of the pupils in my class may be at a different band level and different teaching styles/approaches need to be used.”

“The course has really made me take a look not only at the children, but at myself. It has made me change my approach in certain areas (using more simple language, letting the children take the lead more, etc). I’ve also found it useful to talk to others on the course and discuss similar situations.” Jo Emery-King, a speech and language therapist in Bedfordshire, gave pre and post course questionnaires in addition to the course feedback form. Two points highlighted were: a) Before the course, participants focused on AAC devices and the use of formal signing when asked how they can help students who have difficulties with comprehension and expressive language. After the course they responded to the same question with comments about adapting their language level, the role of the communication environment, positioning / eye contact / eye level, slowing their rate of speech etc. b) When asked about their role, special education assistants made very general comments about helping and supporting students. After the course they identified themselves as having a role in the observation, recording and joint assessment of students’ communication skills. They described themselves as working jointly with other professionals and acknowledged the need to adapt their own approach and teaching style to meet the needs of each student they work with. 4. Gaining commitment to training and joint working Many therapists recognise training as a route towards shared understanding and better joint working but can find that schools are not keen to invest the time. Compromising on the length and content of training sessions may then seem a practical option but there are significant risks: • Devaluing our role and the importance of communication. • Omitting relevant information. Even as an experienced trainer I am still amazed to find that the concepts, terminology, and developmental norms which are familiar to speech and language therapists are frequently not understood by staff working in special school classrooms. • Reducing the standard and efficacy of training provided.

Teachers and assistants appreciate information on the normal development of play and language skills and the link between play, cognitive development and language.

Susan Kidd with Harriette




• Doing a disservice to the schools and education staff who do make the commitment to adequate staff training and real joint working. Susan Kidd notes that, at Peartree School, the head felt so strongly that communication is the foundation to all learning that she made a poster for the staff room detailing all the communication bands and which band the pupils belong in, to remind staff at which level to teach. One of the key things to remember is that a school needs to see that a training opportunity is being offered to them in spite of any shortfall in speech and language therapy provision, not because of it. We have to be able to convince them of their own vital role in understanding and facilitating communication development. A number of years ago a headteacher decided to sit in on the first session of an interaction therapy course we were running for her staff. She was not happy that her staff were having to undergo training so that ‘they could do your job as well as their own’, but by the end she said it was the best course she’d seen and that all her staff must be trained. Interestingly, an I CAN conference survey (RCSLT, 2006) found 70 per cent of the teachers polled felt there was insufficient in-service training to help them meet the needs of children with communication disability. The link between communication difficulties and behaviour was clearly identified at the conference - in itself good motivation for schools to invest time and energy in communication training. We hope this article inspires you to consider, review, or maintain staff training as one very rewarding and effective part of the service you provide. If you are working to set up in-service training and to achieve the necessary commitment, Susan and I hope the following suggestions will be helpful:

a. If you cover several schools, start with those who will be most supportive and receptive. b. Find out if there are issues or pressures affecting staff which may overshadow your course. Communication training might not be the school’s current priority. c. Identify staff who are particularly supportive and involve them in ‘selling’ your idea to the whole school. Support from the head teacher seems crucial. d. Try a staff questionnaire. Let them tell you where the current service falls short - then explain how regular training sessions will help. e. Talk directly to as many staff as possible explaining the remit, aims and benefits of the course. In week ten of one course we learnt that all the information we had given to the head had been presented in a staff meeting as ‘a speech therapy course’. f. Circulate written information. g. Use a training day or one-off training session to explain the purpose, aims and benefits of your course. h. Highlight the potential benefits of the framework you would like them to adopt. Ensure they can see clearly how it will make their job easier. Show how it links in with frameworks they already use, such as P-levels. (If they view the new framework as yet more paperwork or at a tangent from existing ones they will find it hard to feel positive!) i. Make clear your expectations re attendance, time commitment, and follow-up work before the course starts. j. Identify staff who are receptive to training. When participants volunteer, their motivation is excellent. One head, who knew her staff extremely well, recommended suitable candidates.

k. For joint ownership, invite a teacher to be co-leader. Gillian Bolton is a self-employed speech and language therapist living in Rugby, e-mail gillian@apectraining., tel. 01788 576488, Susan Kidd is a speech and language therapist employed by Central Lancashire PCT and working at Peartree School, Station Road, Kirkham, Preston PR4 2HA, e-mail susan.kidd@


Latham, C. & Miles, A. (1997) Assessing Communication. London: David Fulton. Latham, C. & Miles, A. (2001) Communication, Curriculum and Classroom Practice. London: David Fulton. RCSLT (2006) ‘More school communication disability training needed’, Bulletin of the Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists 650 (June), p.6.

APEC2 costs £260 + p&p. See for more details. SLTP



The Fourth Afasic International Symposium 2 – 5 April 2007 • Warwick University Understanding developmental disorders: From theory to practice
Confirmed keynote speakers: Cathy Adams, Gillian Baird, Dorothy Bishop, Gina Conti-Ramsden, Fred Dick, Julie Dockrell, Anthony Monaco, Kate Nation, Michael Rutter, Margaret Snowling, Bruce Tomblin and Maggie Vance. Seminar presenters include: Nicola Botting, Shula Chiat, Maggie Johnson, James Law, Heather van der Lely, Wendy Rinaldi, Kate Ripley, Penny Roy, Judy Roux, Joy Stackhouse, and many more.

Poster sessions including evening wine reception. An exhibition will run for two days during the Symposium. Discounted rates for booking before 31 December 2006.
For more information and details of booking and fees, please contact Carol Lingwood on 01273 381009 or e mail or log on to