How Words First SaLT works: Universal, Targeted and Specialist Levels 

Introduction to Words First in your school

Our main focus at Words First is identifying and breaking down barriers to spoken and written language at Universal, Targeted and Specialist Levels. We can adapt our approach to suit your school’s needs, working within one level or across two or all of the levels. Words First therapists can be ‘traditional’ speech and language therapists OR they can adopt the more innovative approach to linking literacy and language through our Reading and Language Circuit Model to include written language (The Words First Approach™). Should schools opt for including the Words First Approach™ with traditional speech and language therapy, they can expect the following:

  • agreed targets / number of assessments with a structured assessment / intervention cycle to maximise number of children receiving effective specialist support
  • answers to the questions surrounding some students’ lack of progress
  • on-going training and support for all staff
  • access to the Words First Family resources including uniquely designed programs for TAs to deliver
  • access to discounted training rates for teachers and TAs on specialist programmes such as Reading Comprehension, Engagement with Language and SoundSmart
  • access to our uniquely designed spreadsheet which analyses data across the school
  • structured approaches to embedding SLCN strategies across the school
  • a consistent service with the same therapist for the length of the contract
  • regular review of the performance of your therapist (conducted by Words First management)


Specialist Level


Support at the specialist level in schools is similar to traditional speech and language therapy. Children who require this level of support have significant and complex difficulties that require individualised programmes – at Words First, we refer to this level as our neurobiological children – children who, despite adequate language input and support, were born with language or literacy difficulties. These children are likely to need on-going support and may (or may not) have an EHCP or diagnosis of Developmental Language Disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia etc. Words First therapists are trained to work at this level as they have experience and training in speech and language (all our staff in schools are speech and language therapists). Children may move from specialist to targeted or from targeted to specialist at any point depending on their needs. Our ultimate goal at this level is functional gains that are meaningful to the child and have an impact on his/her academic and social well being. In many cases, we find that schools which have NHS provision opt to use the NHS time at this level, allowing Words First to work at Targeted and Universal Levels to optimise gains across the school.

Targeted Level

The Targeted level of support aims to work with students who have gaps in learning / delayed acquisition of skills due to a number of reasons but usually due to impoverished early language experiences. These children form the majority of our caseloads in our mainstream schools. The FANTASTIC news is that these children DO NOT have a neurobiological reason for their difficulties…their brains were wired for language and literacy but due to lack of experience in the early years, they have developed a ‘glitch’ in their reading and language circuits. To support these children, Words First has developed the Reading and Language Circuit Model™ to pinpoint the potential area of breakdown – through our unique assessment battery we are given a map of the child’s language processing for spoken and written language (from Year 1 to Year 11). We can then identify WHY the child is struggling. We produce a user-friendly information sheet for parents and teachers (and we don’t spend hours writing reports that no-one will read) and we place students into groups according to their underlying weakness. Our interventions are specifically designed to match the underlying needs. After 10 sessions we reassess in the deficit areas and in 83% of cases, skills have improved.  Where we cannot reach every child, we have specially designed programmes for TAs to run with minimal training, including before and after informal assessments to measure impact.


As a general rule, we recommend the following assessments:

Words First assessment recommendations:


Purpose of assessment Desired outcome Type of assessment battery
Investigative – staff unsure of reason for behaviour difficulties or failing to reach potential Intervention by SaLT
Intervention by trained TA
Words First Battery
EHCP application Report to be put forward to EHCP panel Full CELF (Preschool or CELF-4), STAP, DEAP or social skills assessment
EHCP conversion Compare results from previous assessment, set child-friendly targets for the year ahead Duplicate previous assessments where possible
Update SEN profile Determine current needs and suggestions targets, support or intervention Words First Battery
Behaviour difficulties Suggestions for support in class, intervention or targets and training where appropriate Words First Battery
Screening Year 1 students for potential literacy / language difficulties Whole class, trained TA or specialist intervention Words First Year 1 screener for literacy and language difficulties
Speech delay / disorder Intervention STAP / DEAP or Nuffield Assessment
Stammer Intervention or referral CELF-4 and Lidcome Assessment
Spelling Strategies and / or intervention Words First Battery
Reading Difficulties Strategies and / or intervention Words First Battery


Universal Level 

Many of our schools are interested in ‘capacity building’ – up-skilling their staff so that we are all working effortlessly towards the same goals across the school. Our Universal Level models have been tried and tested in many of our schools and we have a variety of different options for schools to choose from. At one of our schools, we conducted an audit of strengths and areas for development in teaching and were able to see common trends. We then worked with staff to discuss the impact of these findings and to consider a way forward. The Words First therapist provided training, co-planned and co-delivered specified lessons and provided on-site support, monitoring and feedback. ALL staff found this beneficial and the post audit suggested that teaching for SLCN had improved across the school.

Another example of Universal Level work at one of our schools is the development of a ‘Life Skills’ strand alongside other strands for English, Maths etc… This is a collaborative effort with the Lead Practitioner for Teaching and Learning at the school and the Words First Therapist. Through development of this Strand we will ensure that children with SLCN are able to show progress across areas including self confidence and social skills (e.g greeting someone appropriately).

Other Universal Level approaches include training and supporting ‘Communication Champions’ in schools and allowing these members of staff to train the rest of the team.

Overall, each school is different and requires a different approach to the Universal Level of support. Please do contact us if you would like to discuss how we can support your school at any or all of the above levels.

Universal Level

As advocates for children with literacy and language difficulties, Words First therapists endeavor to support staff to understand the needs of our students. Teachers are experts in their subjects and Words First therapists are experts in literacy and language disorders. Together, teachers and SaLTs make an outstanding team to remove barriers for children with SLCN to reach their full potential. We have a variety of whole school options available to suit the experience level of your staff.

We will work closely with designated staff to create unqiue resources that will benefit your teachers and students. Please look at out VIVID-Q Teacher Prompts as an example of what we have produced, with a school, in the past.

Words First Ltd has extensive experience supporting schools (in terms of SEN) successfully through Ofsted inspections. Our therapists are regularly observed by inspectors and we encourage schools to suggest observations while an inspector is on site.