Giving our children a voice
By Ben Sawtell, Senior Communications Officer
Inaugural lectures provide newly appointed professors with the opportunity to inform colleagues, the campus community and the general public of their work to date, including current research and future plans. But there were, surely, very few people in attendance at Professor Victoria Joffe's inaugural lecture last night that were not already aware of her work.
Since she joined City in 2001, Professor Joffe has built a reputation as one of the country's leading academics in the study of developmental speech language and communication needs (SLCN) in children and young people and at the same time has built a reputation as a supportive, friendly, proactive and enthusiastic colleague and mentor.
She began her talk with an overview of the current state of SLCN in children and young people in education in Britain. She noted that while speech and language provision was relatively robust for primary school children, there was a distinct lack of research in and information on SLCN in secondary schools and adulthood, an issue which is exacerbated by limited specialist provision.
For those unfamiliar with the subject, some of the statistics were surprising. For instance, a recent study found that in areas of high social deprivation 70-80% of pupils in secondary education have some form of SLCN.
In government circles the journey towards full recognition of the scale and importance of the problem seems to be a slow one, despite the publication of the widely admired Bercow Report in 2008, which made more than forty recommendations for improvements in this area.
Professor Joffe believes the report also demonstrated on the wider importance of communication:
"We are just starting to understand the long-term implications that unaddressed communication needs present. Our social, mental and financial wellbeing is intrinsically linked to our ability to communicate. The Bercow Report was the first high-level government document to highlight this link and it was very significant, but there is still work to be done."
It is against this backdrop that Professor Joffe's recent work has been focussing on the specific details of SLCN of children in secondary education and exploring the benefits of narrative/storytelling and vocabulary enrichment interventions.
Enhancing Language and Communication in Secondary Schools project
She led the Nuffield Foundation funded Enhancing Language and Communication in Secondary Schools (ELCISS) project which explores the prevalence, nature and type of language and communication impairment in secondary school students in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham.
The study investigated the effectiveness of a range of therapies using storytelling and vocabulary to examine which specific aspects of language were improved. It employed outcome measures from the child, school, parent and staff.
It is hoped that the ELCISS project will build upon recent studies that show how certain interventions can be effective for secondary school children extends a pilot study on the effectiveness of narrative and vocabulary training. (Joffe, 2006)
It seems as though there is a long road ahead, but Professor Joffe doesn't find it daunting: "No, not at all. I draw strength from the young people and parents involved. It's challenging but something that I find extremely exciting."
Professor Joffe finished her lecture with a quote from Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
A fitting encapsulation of the attitude and demeanour that has driven Professor Joffe's career and, together with her ground-breaking research, has made her a key player in SLC research and a firm favourite with both students and colleagues alike.