Chris Williams – Chatta

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Chris Williams, an ex-primary school teacher, was able to use his knowledge of the value of teaching through pictures and language to create “Chatta”, an online whole-class teaching method based on pictures and storyboards and linked with spoken language.

Chris explained how he first came up with the idea of Chatta: “I was inspired through my work with autistic children when I was a Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) teacher and used pictures to help them develop their language skills. I also used to work with the Early Years Team, which is part of Hull Council, working with the families there. There was a real concern that children were starting school without the language to understand, communicate, function and achieve. I decided to create Chatta which is simple, effective and accessible software for teachers to use in the classroom and is based on principles of how children acquire speech.

SHINE’s involvement with the project means that Chris had the opportunity to expand Chatta into 10 schools across Hull. He now has plans to reach 50 schools across the North over the next two years, through a regional hub model. If Chatta reaches these targets within a shorter timescale, and we can establish significant demand for the Chatta approach, we would expect to support this intervention with a further follow-on grant to expand and develop additional hubs.

The key objective of Chatta’s first SHINE-funded project was to ensure that all participating children would exceed age-related expectations before starting the reception year at school. Three years on, and the data suggests that Chatta has done just this. When Chris started the project, he identified disadvantaged schools in Hull, with only 44% achieving a good level of development. This has now increased to 67%, just above the national average.

Chris reflected on the support he has received from SHINE, saying, “They have been a big part of the project along the way. I’ve been lucky enough to have a real partnership with SHINE, working together on research, project planning and evaluation.”

Chatta has also received very positive feedback from teachers who have been involved in the project. Madeline Palmer, a teacher at McMillian Nursery in Hull, said, “It has definitely made an impact on the children’s oral recall and vocabulary. It’s easy to use, quick and very open-ended. We use it for storytelling, sequencing, word retrieval and for children to make their own simple stories.”

Vanessa Pierce, an early years teacher from Wansbeck Primary School in Hull, said, “We found the support and advice from the Chatta team so valuable. The resources are so easy to use. Our children have benefited greatly, especially after the COVID lockdowns, with the children’s starting points being so low. We would love to continue working with Chatta.”

Looking toward the future, Chatta has big ambitions for what is next. Chris “would like more people to know about what we do. We want a greater awareness of the difference that teaching with pictures can make, as well as the importance of spoken language and how children acquire it.”