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Ready, Steady, Goal! Setting targets that children can achieve

Recently, in the middle of doing a chore I had a momentary pause. I suddenly thought to myself, “Don’t do that, your future self will not be happy”. This in turn had me thinking about how ‘Do that, their future selves will be very happy’ can help in our day-to-day work with young children.

This month, I want to explore how we can put positivity into practice in setting targets and goals for children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). Through well-set goals, children will not only be able to achieve but continue to reap the benefits in years to come.

The background rules

The SEN Code of Practice in England places a strong emphasis on delivering better outcomes for children and young people with Special Education Needs and Disabilities (SEND). This is statutory and crucial in directing us towards turning policy into good practice.

However, to add to this, The Communication Trust (TCT) has created a supporting document called Communicating the Code, focusing specifically on supporting children with SLCN in England. In the section on outcomes it 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 Plan (EHCP) 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, agreed with parents and the child or young person and be valued by and are meaningful to all.

How do we determine good outcomes and develop goals that work towards these? Well, I’m delighted to say that Communicating the Code has additional guidance around this below:

  • 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 environments, you can download I CAN's factsheet
  • Children and young people with SLCN are at risk of social and emotional difficulties. Ensure that emotional needs 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 and a seven step process - 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 on our enquiry service helpline: 02078432544, which is open Mondays to Wednesdays. Or you can email

Developing outcomes to ensure that children make progress can be challenging sometimes but with a positive mindset, the right tools and working with others, we can do this.

Let me conclude with a couple of life affirmation quotes: an American psychologist called Eileen Kennedy-Moore is quoted as saying “Potential is not an endpoint but a capacity to grow and learn.”

The author Robin Sharma also said “Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results.”

About the author

Jon Gilmartin is a speech and language therapist who specialises in working with early years practitioners and families with young children. As a Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN, he delivers training to early years professionals and supports them to develop their practice. He also works on I CAN’s Enquiry Service providing information, advice and support for practitioners and parents. You can contact Jon directly on I CAN’s Enquiry Service by calling 0207 843 2544 or sending an email to 

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