Every module I studied has had a significant impact not only on my own working practice but also that of my pupils

John Lavender wears a grey sweatshirt. He is stood outside an old stone building with a tree on the left.
John Lavender
MSc Language and Communication Impairment in Children
John has had an incredibly varied career. He explains his current role in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) in Wales, what led him to the university, and how our Language and Communication Impairment in Children course has impacted the lives of his students.
John Lavender wears a grey sweatshirt. He is stood outside an old stone building with a tree on the left.

John started his working life as a music teacher, before going on to serve in the Army as a musician (a childhood ambition). Since 2005, John has taught in Special Educational Needs schools. He’s now a teacher and Additional Learning Needs Co-ordinator at a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) for pupils aged 11-16 who have been excluded or who are at risk of exclusion.

What made you decide to study Language and Communication Impairment in Children at the University of Sheffield?

I initially attended a training session on speech, language and communication needs to find out how I could help a pupil who I thought might have a speech impairment. I discovered that communication difficulties can be linked to behaviour and emotional difficulties seen at the PRU. Pupils told me they deliberately disrupted lessons or truanted because they didn’t understand the language and vocabulary used in lessons. Difficulties then escalated when senior school managers approached them about their behaviour; again they felt unable to express themselves or understand what was being said. This led to conflict or them being labelled as confrontational.

Then in 2017, I attended a NAPLIC conference where one of the presentations was given by Professor Judy Clegg of the University of Sheffield. This was a ‘light bulb’ moment for me and I knew I had to learn more to be able to offer more to pupils at the PRU. The obvious place to start looking was on the University of Sheffield’s website and that’s where I came across the LACIC course. The flexibility, teaching expertise and module options left me in no doubt that this is where I wanted to study. 

What knowledge and skills did you develop during your course?

Every module I studied on the LACIC course has had a significant impact not only on my own working practice but also that of my pupils.

I now teach language and communication skills to every pupil group in the PRU at least once a week, including executive function skills, pragmatic language skills, and vocabulary development. As a direct consequence of my studies, the PRU has made communication and language its main priority.

John Lavender

At school I was never very good at maths so I was filled with trepidation at the thought of studying quantitative research methods in year two of the course. To my surprise I really enjoyed it; I passed these modules with distinction and my final dissertation was a quantitative study – that’s how good the teaching and support is on the LACIC course! I now use these skills to analyse various language and communication assessment data, identify possible literacy difficulties and put specific targeted interventions in place.

How has part-time distance learning enabled you to work and study?

The main advantage of part-time distance learning is the flexibility it offers; I was able to plan and study around my work and family commitments. You have to be organised, but this is a skill I developed throughout the first year of the course.

The university teachers and course leaders are only an email away and are very supportive. Each module also has discussion boards where I was able to ask questions and speak to other students on the same course.

In my first year we also attended study blocks at the university which I really enjoyed and looked forward to. Since the shift to hybrid working, the study blocks were moved online and recorded for future reference.

What would you say to a student thinking about studying your course at Sheffield?

If you are thinking of studying on the LACIC course, I would 100% say to do it! 

The course is designed to meet the interests of all professions involved in, or thinking about being involved in, the speech, language and communication needs of children and young people. As well as the broader learning opportunities offered, there are also options to tailor your study to your professional interests.

I have undertaken previous postgraduate study before studying at Sheffield and none of them, in terms of learning, teaching and support, came even a close second to this degree. The course is so thorough in every aspect that I have now applied for a PhD at the university.

Four students laughing while sat at a bench, outside the Students' Union

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