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Communication Champions

An innovative speech and language training programme creating ‘Communication Champions’ amongst Early Years educators and practitioners.


Childminders, Head Teachers / School Leaders, Local Authorities, Pastoral and Support Staff, School Teachers, Settings & Early Years Practitioners, Trusts

Aimed at

Early Years Foundation Stage, KS1


Early Years, Language Development, Literacy, Transition


CPD, Whole School

Why was the project needed?

Local partners, such as schools and voluntary sector organisations, told us that pupils too often have poor communication, social and emotional skills at school entry and there was more to do to engage parents in these areas of learning.  

The proportion of children achieving a Good Level of Development (GLD) was poor in Norwich and evidence suggests that children that are behind at age 5, often struggle to catch up and the progress children make varies significantly.

Schools suggested that whilst they could refer children to the speech and language therapy service, they often found that the available service did not necessarily meet the whole challenge and there remained a need for improving speech and language support within the classroom.

What happened and what was the impact?

The Norwich Opportunity Area (NOA) commissioned a new, comprehensive speech and language training programme, known as ‘Communication Champions Training’, to be delivered to Early Years practitioners. This training was mapped to the Enhanced Level of The Communication Trust’s Speech, Language and Communication Framework and offered a Core and Leadership level for practitioners. As the number of Communication Champions increased and appetite grew for further speech and language focused continuing professional development (CPD), the NOA also offered local schools and settings the opportunity to undertake accredited Elklan training as well as a Masters in Educational Practice and Research. 

Communication Champions Training was designed to be delivered to local Early Years educators and practitioners working with children aged 0-5 years. At both Core and Leadership levels the training provided them with the necessary knowledge, confidence, skills and understanding to support children’s early Speech, Language and Communication needs (SLCN) in the classroom. Topics included identification and assessment, the communication environment, engaging parents, speech sounds, expressive language and strategies to support children. 

Learners were required to complete Core training and could then decide whether to go onto the Leadership level. Impact was measured with baseline and endpoint questionnaires to review changes to confidence and knowledge. The NOA commissioned a set of pre-recorded training sessions from ICAN that educators and practitioners could work through at their own pace. 

The Communication Champions Training began in 2018 via a series of face to face, twilight and full day training sessions. In 2020 the training was adapted to be delivered online given Covid-19 disruption with two online solutions. The NOA organised virtual live training delivered via zoom as twilight sessions that provided learners the opportunity to engage with their trainer and peers and to ask questions and discuss their learning.

The number of Communication Champions increased across Norwich and local appetite grew for further speech and language focused CPD. In response the NOA offered local schools and setting educators and practitioners the opportunity to undertake accredited level 2 and 3 qualifications via the national speech and language training provider, Elklan. 

In 2019, the NOA also invited interested educators and practitioners to study for an Educational Practice and Research Master’s degree at The University of East Anglia. Eight MA students were chosen via an application process and they each committed to completing their MA dissertation on an area of speech and language development. The results of this research will be shared with communication champions through the Hubs Network. 

What did and didn't work?

There is a strong appetite for CPD around Early Years speech, language and communication development and educators and practitioners are keen to use new evidence-based interventions and to share their learning with others. Educators and practitioners from schools and other settings have used their increased confidence and expertise to improve approaches across their setting to support children’s SLCNs. 

Despite Covid-19 disruption, each Communication Champions Training course had consistently high levels of attendance and engagement. Educator and practitioner confidence and knowledge to identify and support children’s early SLCNs significantly increased following the training.

By April 2021:

  • 41 Communication Champions were trained to core level.
  • 73 Communication Champions were trained to leadership level.
  • 42 educators and practitioners had completed an accredited level 2 or 3 Elklan qualification.
  • 7 educators and practitioners continued to work towards their funded Educational Practice and Research Masters at the University of East Anglia. 

Various formats for training had different strengths for different groups; face to face sessions helped educators and practitioners build relationships and supported the longer-term development and engagement with the network, virtual sessions were flexible and helped participants access learning in the most convenient way but some missed the opportunity to discuss questions with the qualified trainer and their peers. 

With future investment in CPD we would set clear time limits for completion as a number of learners never completed their training. 

Offering a range of formats, dates and opportunities has resulted in the project reaching a large proportion of the early years workforce with high quality CPD. 

How did you measure success?

Educators and practitioners who engaged in our Communication Champions Training had increased knowledge and confidence when identifying and supporting children’s early SLCNs. This was evidenced in our analysis of their pre and post training questionnaires, as well as through the Communication Champions reports received through the honorariums project. 

It is also evident via these reports that the communication champions have also gone on to embed their learning in their school or setting, cascade their training to other members of staff and make positive changes to their interventions, assessments of SLCNs and whole school policy documents. 

Educators and practitioners who engaged in the Elklan training were awarded an accredited level 2 or 3 qualification, again suggesting an increase in knowledge and understanding.


Ingredients For Success

High quality, relevant and engaging CPD for educators and practitioners, with the opportunity for discussion, arranged at multiple times and dates, using a variety of delivery methods to suit all learners and circumstances.

Is the Project Complete or Ongoing

The final round of Communication Champions Training for NOA schools and settings has been completed.

How is the Project Sustainable

Resources to support the existing communication champions to cascade their learning to colleagues, have been created and distributed and the online. Communication Champions Training will continue to be accessible to Early Years practitioners beyond the life of the project, via Norfolk County Council.

What are the Long Term Impacts

It is intended that the knowledge, skills and passion for supporting SLCNs gained by the communication champions will continue to benefit their settings for years to come and they will be able to build upon this CPD by joining one of their local Communication Champions Hubs.

Estimated Costs

Creation and delivery of the original Communication Champions Training cost £30,000 with additional costs of between £2,500-£3,000 for further and updated training sessions depending on format and tailoring. Accredited Elklan training (level 2 or 3) cost £350+ per person. Educational Practice and Research MA cost £5,000-£7,000 per person dependent on previous credits.

I would totally recommend this project, it’s been brilliant. I’ve really grown as a practitioner and I know so much more about it all but also, it’s helped our school and our children. 

Cecilia Basnett, Communication Champion, Bignold Primary School. 

The staff team are more confident at identifying and supporting all children with their language and communication. The support for parents and carers was greatly improved through the community communication champion sessions that we were able to signpost families to; As a result, we have had more engagement with the parents about their child’s developing communication and language skills. 

Cathy Bryan, Communication Champion, Catton Grove Primary School.

Area Most Impacted


Language & Communication

School Readiness

See how others have implemented this Big Idea

Being a Communication Champion - Bignold Primary

Cecilia Basnett, EYFS Lead and Communication Champion at Bignold Primary School talks about being a Communication Champion.

Being a Communication Champion - Catton Grove Primary

Three members of staff completed Communication Champion training during the original NOA project. They worked alongside our dedicated, in-school speech and language team to identify and support children who have speech, language and communication needs.

The Communication Champions Conference 2019 & 2022

Next steps to do something similar yourself

These are a list of Big Idea resources that you can use to implement in your setting:

Communication Champions Training programme:

Communication Champions Audit Tool (PLEASE NOTE the Communication Champion Audit Tool is a working document. For the latest version please contact your local Communication Champions Hub – see the contacts section):

Communication Champions Cascading Resources:

Check out the Department for Education (DfE) Opportunity Areas Insight Guide for Early Years to read a case study on the Norwich Communication Champions Project (page 21):

Watch this video of Communication Champion Trainer Emma Ferris from Communicate discussing the key elements of the Communication Champion project and training:

Read the EEF Guidance Report on Preparing for Literacy here

Read the EEF Guidance Report on Improving Literacy in KS1 here

Champions and contacts



Hub Contact Details

Emma Ferris, Clinical Director & Lead Speech and Language Therapist


Norwich Opportunity Area Team
The North Norwich (Communication Hub (Eileen Maceachern)

Mile Cross Primary School, Brasier Road

Norwich, Norfolk


The North Norwich (Communication Hub (Catherine Bryan)

Catton Grove Primary School, Weston Road

Norwich, Norfolk


The 0-2 Communication (Yvonne Hamilton)

Chestnut Nursery,Norwich Research Park, Colney Lane

Norwich, Norfolk


The 0-2 Communication Hub (Suzie Squirrel-Hughes)

Little Squirrels Play Forest, Castle Mall, 100 Lion & Castle Yard

Norwich, Norfolk


Lakenham Primary Communication Hub (Jess Bell and Tracey Hawthorne)

Lakenham Primary School, City Road

Norwich, Norfolk


Lionwood Infant School Communication Hub (Sam Thorpe and Faye Herron)

Lionwood Infant and Nursery School, Telegraph Lane East

Norwich, Norfolk


Peapod Pre-School Communication Hub (Fran O'Neill and Sarah Riley)

Peapod Pre-School, Milford Road

Norwich, Norfolk


Norwich Opportunity Area Team
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