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Aiming high: developing goals for children with speech, language and communication needs

I recently saw an advert showing babies and young children engaged in activities, accompanied by a shadow of their potential future self. The idea behind this clever marketing is that if we give young children the right (branded) nutrition they will fulfil their potential and who knows where this will take them. I then also came across a feature about a stand up comedian who cannot speak at all but uses an iPad to communicate.

This tapped into my thinking about aspirations, potential and how we can support children to achieve. This month’s focus is on aiming high and developing positive outcomes for children with speech, language, communication needs (SLCN).  

The SEN Code of Practice places a strong emphasis on delivering better outcomes for children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND). The Communication Trust (TCT) has created a supporting document Communicating the Code focusing specifically on supporting children with SLCN. In the section on outcomes this states:

  • Outcomes should be set for every child and young person on the Special Education Needs (SEN) register, whether they have an Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan or not.
  • Outcomes must be SMART, (i.e. Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound) which means they should be clear and progress against them can be measured.
  • Outcomes should be developed and agreed with parents and the child or young person and be valued by and meaningful to all.

But what is a good outcome and how can we develop goals that work towards these? Communicating the Code has additional guidance around this:

  • Keep a long-term view. What are we trying to achieve with the child or young person, and why? Keep a focus on functional life skills for the future, and steps to achieve this.
  • Look at ways to ensure your setting is as communication supportive and as inclusive as possible. The knowledge, attitudes and inclusiveness of the environment should be considered when setting goals. For more information on communication supportive environment download I CAN's factsheet
  • Children and young people with SLCN are at risk of social and emotional difficulties. Ensure that emotional needs also receive attention. For more on social and emotional difficulties and speech, language and communication download the RCSLT's factsheet .
  • Use general good practice in supporting children and young people with SLCN, such as using visual support, keeping information short and clear, removing distractions, etc.

For more general guidance Helen Sanderson Associates have developed a road map for how we develop outcomes. You may find this useful reading too.

Reflecting on practice:

  • How do you develop the targets or small steps that move children closer to getting where everyone would like them to be?
  • What tools do you use to support you to develop these?
  • How do you reflect the child's voice?
  • Who else do you involve in developing these targets?  Are there any challenges around this?
  • What type of support do you put in place to enable children to make the most progress? How often do you review children's progress and set next steps?

If you would like to discuss developing outcomes for children and supporting their progress you can speak to one of I CAN's speech and language therapists via I CAN Help. Or you can email

Developing outcomes to ensure that children make progress can be challenging sometimes. But with a positive mindset and the right tools we can do this. Just to leave you with a quote from a book on Grit I was reading recently featuring comedian Francesca Martinez who has cerebral palsy and is a model of achieving in a challenging field: 'achieving comes from self worth and believing in yourself and that comes from the people around you believing in you'.

Amanda Baxter is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Communication Advisor for I CAN, she delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. She also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents.  Amanda has worked in children's centres and as a Local Authority Early Language Consultant. 

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