Ground-breaking partnership scheme to help early years learners in Hull

Representatives from the participating schools at the Chatta training session at Pocklington SchoolEarly learners at schools across Hull are to benefit from a ground-breaking new initiative led by Pocklington School to improve their communication and language skills.

Concern that only 68% of children in Hull achieved the expected level of development at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2019 has led to a new partnership between Pocklington School, education charity SHINE, Hull City Council, Chatta Learning and a group of 12 local state schools.

The schools are to start using the award-winning Chatta teaching approach. Chatta is based at Pocklington School and has been developed in partnership with it. Chatta has led to transformative results in young children’s communication, language and literacy skills and is now used in schools across the world.

Teachers and teaching assistants from the 12 participating schools in Hull met at Pocklington School to launch the new initiative, which will benefit the three and four- year-olds in their care. Their classes include children at a lower level of development than that expected for their age, children for whom English is a second language, and youngsters with special educational needs which means they risk falling behind in their formal education.

The two-year project to help give children the best possible start to education in the Early Years is running with funding from the Leeds-based Shine Trust, known as SHINE, as part of its drive to raise the attainment of disadvantaged children from the North.

Chatta is based on research relating to what matters most in learning and development. It uses technology to present content in a way which mirrors the way people think and commit to memory, and is used in the classroom and at home. Chatta’s software links learning experiences and subject content (in the form of photos and pictures downloaded by users) with modelled spoken language and opportunities for children to rehearse and tell stories.

Chatta’s founder, former teacher Chris Williams, said “Pupils in Hull, like many across the country, are too often starting school with insufficient communication skills. They can arrive at pre-school classes unable to communicate or even speak. If they can’t express their needs or interact socially it has impact on their learning.”

He added: “I’m thrilled that SHINE has agreed to fund this project. A key priority in the early years is communication and language but we find that many of our schools see the benefits the Chatta approach can bring to children in all year groups.”

SHINE’s CEO, Fiona Spellman, said: “SHINE is excited to be supporting this interesting new innovation and working alongside partners at Pocklington School and Hull City Council to tackle the enormous gap in communication and language which too many children from disadvantaged families suffer when they start primary school.

“We see real potential in Chatta and this is a great example of how an independent school can use its facilities and resources to support change in the state sector.”

Hull City Council will be overseeing the data and analysis of the project. The data will assess the professional development of staff, the impact on the children and the engagement of parents – all of which measure the project’s success.

Helen Tan, Early Years Standards and Improvement Officer at Hull City Council, said: “At the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage in 2019, only 68% of the children in Hull achieved the expected level of development so we are excited that the schools involved will to be able to further support children’s communication and language skills through the use of Chatta and the SHINE project.”

The Chatta team will be training staff and running workshops with parents and carers, who will also be encouraged to use Chatta’s innovative software to make their own stories with children at home.

Chris Williams said: “Chatta works as part of a whole class teaching approach and is accessible and beneficial to children of all developmental stages. We anticipate it being used twice a week in 15-minute sessions, similar to story-time. The class works together to tell a story using pictures; the modelling and practise of spoken language is essential for all children no matter what their starting point.”

Pocklington School’s External Relations Director, Sheena McNamee, said: “We are keen to extend and deepen our links with the local community by sharing the resources and expertise we have to offer. The SHINE project provides the perfect opportunity for us to help local children benefit from all the advantages of Chatta for early learners.”

Pocklington School’s support of Chatta has led to it being shortlisted for the Best Use of Technology award 2020 in the prestigious Tes Independent School Awards, which applaud excellence and reward innovation.

Chatta has also been named as one of the world’s 100 brightest education innovations for two consecutive years by global education non-profit organisation HundrED, which highlights best practice ideas and innovations to help the future of education globally.