THRASS and I CAN: Working Together to Break Down the Barriers for Children with Communication Disability

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It is essential that children of all abilities should learn to read and write, yet a large and growing number of children are beginning formal education without the speech and language skills they need to achieve and make friends. In its report The Cost to the Nation of Children's Poor Communication, I CAN - the children's communication charity - recounts evidence that in some parts of the UK around 50% of children start school lacking the skills that are vital for an effective start to learning. On top of this one in ten children (up to 10%) has a long-term persistent communication disability.

How the THRASS programme teaches essential speaking and listening skills

It is essential that children of all abilities should learn to read and write, yet a large and growing number of children are beginning formal education without the speech and language skills they need to achieve and make friends. In its report The Cost to the Nation of Children's Poor Communication, I CAN - the children's communication charity - recounts evidence that in some parts of the UK around 50% of children start school lacking the skills that are vital for an effective start to learning. On top of this one in ten children (up to 10%) has a long-term persistent communication disability.

Many children with a communication disability can succeed in mainstream education, particularly where schools embrace collaborative working arrangements and when pupils have access to the specialist staff and resources they need. However, some children with a severe or complex communication disability require specialist placement for some or all of their education. I CAN has two special schools which together provide intensive support for pupils aged four to nineteen: Dawn House School in Nottingham and Meath School in Surrey.

The THRASS (Teaching Handwriting, Reading and Spelling Skills) phonics programme, pioneered by British Educational Psychologist Alan Davies, is used in thousands of nurseries and primary schools in Europe and Africa and has been shown to have the potential to at least double the normal rate of progress made by primary school children who have reading and spelling difficulties. It is because of this fantastic track record that I CAN has chosen to further increase the use of the THRASS phonics programme at Meath School.

THRASS UK will be holding two training courses at Meath School later this year. The first, in June, will be a one-day course entitled "How the THRASS programme teaches essential speaking and listening skills" and will be for 80 delegates. The monies raised will be donated to Meath School. The second, in October, will be a two-day Accredited Certificate Course which THRASS UK is providing for 70 delegates, thirty of whom are teachers, assistants and therapists at Meath School.

The school is a non-maintained day and residential primary special school for up to seventy-five pupils aged five to eleven years, where severe and complex communication disabilities are the primary educational need. Many of the pupils also have difficulties with fine and/or gross motor co-ordination, attention control and literary skills. Some pupils may have an additional learning need associated with mild autistic characteristics.

Janet Dunn, Headteacher at Meath School, said "We are delighted to be collaboratively working with THRASS UK at our Meath School and would like to thank them for their support. Our children have profound speech and language problems and the THRASS phonics programme has shown us the potential to dramatically improve their reading and spelling abilities. The training that THRASS UK will provide to our staff will be invaluable. We are keen that they keep up-to-date with the latest programmes and technologies that are available so we can ensure that we provide the very best service for our pupils and their families."

THRASS UK is also backing I CAN's Make Chatter Matter awareness-raising campaign to highlight the importance of young children's communication development as the foundation for learning and development. The company is aiming to work collaboratively with I CAN and other organisations, in whatever way it is able, in the campaign to help children communicate.

For more information please contact:

THRASS UK News Media Centre http://www.thrass.co.uk/nm.htm
Mike Meade, Media Director, +44 1829 741413 Mob: 07970 151 738

Chris Griffiths, International Development, +30 266 203 1207

Laura Smith, Senior Press and PR Officer at I CAN. 020 7674 2810

Notes to editors

To learn more about I CAN, its Make Chatter Matter campaign and Meath School, visit http://www.ican.org.uk or http://www.ican.org.uk/makechattermatter

I CAN works to ensure all people who have a responsibility to children, either directly or indirectly, from parent and teachers to policy makers, understand the importance of good communication skills. This is achieved through:

a. information, training, support and online resources for children, families and professionals

b. direct service provision through two schools for children with severe and complex disabilities, and a network of early years provisions

c. consultancy and outreach services through I CAN's Early Talk and Primary Talk programmes and Communication Skills Centres

d. raising awareness through campaigns such as Make Chatter Matter and through initiatives such as the Chatterbox Challenge

e. campaigning to place communication skills at the heart of children's policy.

For a summary of the main features of THRASS and the benefits of using THRASS, (including comments from teachers and parents), visit http://www.thrass.co.uk/keyfacts.htm

Two of the resources offered by THRASS are of particular value for teaching children with learning difficulties: the Phoneme Machine and the Calendar Charts for early language learning. The Phoneme Machine is a groundbreaking computer programme that uses moving human lips and the International Phonetic Alphabet to teach children, and indeed learners of all ages and abilities, to read and spell in an entertaining and fun way. It can be downloaded free of charge in the countries that THRASS UK is licensed to serve and thousands of people have already downloaded it since it was launched last year.

The Phoneme Machine has recently received software accreditation from market leader SMART Technologies, for use on its interactive whiteboards in the countries that THRASS UK is licensed to serve. The software is to be showcased at Microsoft's African Schools Technology Innovation Centre.

For more information about the THRASS Phoneme Machine Version 4.13 and to register for a free download of the software, visit http://www.phonememachine.com

Free Calendar Charts for early language learning are available in several European and African languages. To obtain copies of the free Calendar Charts, visit http://www.thrass.co.uk/cart/cc.htm

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CHRIS GRIFFITHS
THRASS
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