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Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area Celebration puts speech and language in the spotlight.

Therapists and Assistant Practitioners from MPFT Children’s Speech and Language Therapy Service presented the inspiring outcomes they have achieved through the Opportunity Area at a Celebration Event at Staffordshire University.

The Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area has funded 41 projects over five years, with the Speech and Language Therapy service delivering projects for Priority 1: ‘improving outcomes in the early years foundation stage’.

Closing the Word Gap

Speech and language therapists Sarah Jimenez-Novoa and Victoria Bailey, were joined by Natasha Porter, teacher & early years lead from Ball Green Primary, to present for the Closing the Word Gap project.

The project has provided specialist support to over 40 local primary schools to improve early language acquisition in the Early Years Foundation Stage. Specialist speech and language therapists worked closely schools, introducing a speech, language & communication audit tool and helping the school to develop an action plan, providing training, modelling and support as necessary. The audit captured nationally recognised best practice in speech, language and communication.

School staff accessed a termly network that explored each aspect of the audit as well as providing valuable networking opportunities between education staff.

Over 1,600 practitioners were trained through a wide training menu covering all aspects of speech, language and communication, with 100% of practitioners reporting an increase in confidence and saying they had learned a lot that could be used in their daily practice.


Speech and language therapy assistant practitioners Elise Lewis and Farha Aziz presented for SMILE (Speech, Milestones, Interaction, Learning & Expression). SMILE works to improve the engagement and skills of parents in areas of greatest need, to improve children’s speech, language and communication development. SMILE groups target children aged 18-30 months presenting with delayed communication and teaches parents simple strategies based on the Stoke Speaks Out key messages.

Since July 2019, over 80 children and families have been supported through SMILE, with three quarters making progress and being discharged after six weeks.


The Opportunity Area projects draw to a close this summer, but the learning and progress made in the projects will continue. School staff trained as part of the Closing the Word Gap project have the knowledge, skills and resources to continue best practice that has been embedded over the past four years. The SMILE service is now embedded as a targeted pathway in Stoke-on-Trent and Tamworth and is soon to be rolled out to Stafford.

Find out more about the Stoke-on-Trent Opportunity Area here.


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