The NOA created 5 Communication Hubs that would act as ‘centres of excellence’ around SLCN. Each school/setting would develop its own areas of expertise and as a result, they would lead in sharing knowledge and best practice around SLCN with other Early Years professionals in the NOA and beyond. The Communication Hubs would also run half-termly network meetings for communication champions and use some of their funding to support workforce training across the city.
The NOA shared an application form with all schools and settings who had sent a practitioner onto the Communication Champion Training. This outlined the Opportunity Area’s vision for the Communication Hubs and it listed all their associated responsibilities, such as the requirement to continue to grow the Communication Champion Network for example, and run half termly network meetings.
It also detailed the funding that would be given to a Communication Hub should they be successful, this was £10,000 per Hub, and it asked potential applicants to outline how they would use this money and what outcomes they would hope to achieve. From here, schools and settings were invited to apply for this role, either on their own or in partnership with another school or setting.
Once all applications had been received, a panel met to review them anonymously. The strengths and weaknesses of each application were discussed and by the end of this process, four Communication Hubs had been chosen. This comprised of one preschool setting, two schools working independently and two schools working together in partnership. Geographically, these four hubs covered each of the four areas of Norwich – north, south, east and west.
The Norwich Opportunity Area worked with each of the new Hub Leads to finalise their Communication Hub plan and talk through any areas of weakness in their application. The existing Communication Champions Network that had been meeting for the whole Opportunity Area and led network meetings once every half term, was then split up so that all communication champions were reassigned to their local Communication Hub. Following this, funding was distributed and each of the four Communication Hubs took over the running of their own network meetings.
For the first year, all hub leads were actively supported by the NOA to plan and chair their meetings, collate and manage their distribution lists, build their agendas, and take meeting minutes. Thereafter, the Communication Hub leads took over the full running of these meetings with great success, signifying that the network meetings were now a fully sustainable part of this project.
In the latter half of 2019, conversations at a strategic level with project stakeholders and partners suggested that there was more to do to reach children earlier with speech and language needs. Following the First 1001 Days report and associated research, a spotlight was shone on the 0-2-year age phase and as a result, the NOA decided to set up a specific 0-2 Communication Hub to address what is happening around communication and language at the earliest stages of a child’s life.
The process of setting up this Hub was much the same as it had been prior; the only difference being that this Hub’s remit and network meetings would be solely for professionals working with, or with an interest in, 0-2-year-old development. Following an application process, two local nurseries were chosen to work in partnership on this project and from here, a 0-2 Hub Action Plan was created. At time of writing, this Hub is still in its first year of running and is currently being supported by the NOA team but already the distribution list for this hub has reached a total of 57 practitioners from Norwich and beyond.
Moving forward, all five Communication Hubs are now beginning to think about how they can use some of their funding to support wider workforce development and intervention planning. Over the next 6 months, the Hubs hope to be able to offer the practitioners in their networks an array of funded training opportunities and a new Communication Champion Audit Tool. Each Hub is also concurrently working on ensuring their own settings reflect outstanding speech and language provision and practice, and they are each moving forward with their own action plans and network meeting agendas. For higher level planning and discussions, all hub leads also meet as a collective once every school term.
We have learnt that successful Communication Hubs can be formed and supported to work together strategically, to improve the speech and language provision and practice of local schools and settings. We have also learnt that Early Years practitioners, from a multitude of education provisions, welcome new opportunities to network together, share best practice, discuss issues and receive continuing professional development (CPD) in relation to early speech, language and communication development.