Five years on from the review of provision for children’s SLCN by John Bercow MP, I am pleased to report that it is now more widely understood that communication is the fundamental life skill. Communication is central to children’s life chances and underpins literacy, learning, friendships and school readiness. A host of reports by Tickell, Allen and Field have recognised this and the revised Early Years Foundation Stage has prioritised Communication and Language as one of three prime areas of learning for young children.
The BCRP research has further strengthened our understanding of the critical link between early language skills and later school success. It found that teacher’s ratings of communication, language and literacy in the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) were able to predict later performance in reading, spelling, reading comprehension and arithmetic in Year 3.
These findings reinforce the vital importance of early intervention and ensuring that early years practitioners are skilled to be able to identify and support children with SLCN. This is particularly important as we know that there is a ‘golden window’ between 0-5 years where support and interventions can make a real difference to a child’s language difficulties.
If a child’s needs are not recognised and supported, the impact on the child and their families can be devastating. In December 2012, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, expressed concerns that over 34 per cent of children are not working securely in communication, language and literacy by the end of the EYFS. Worryingly, the BCRP research found that parents are experiencing delays between noticing their child has a problem with their speech, language and communication and getting their child the right support – in some cases this was as long as two years.
The BCRP research has shown that if we can identify language difficulties, there can be real improvements in outcomes for children with SLCN. It recommends that evidenced interventions should be offered at three levels - universal, targeted and specialist level - to meet the needs of children and young people across early years, primary and secondary. I CAN offers a portfolio of evidenced programmes and interventions across all ages and stages, including our Early Talk 0-5 Years programme. I CAN also leads the Department for Education funded Early Language Development Programme (ELDP).
The ELDP aims to create 500 hubs of early language expertise across England, particularly targeting areas of deprivation. It provides two days’ free training to a pair of early years practitioners, giving them an understanding of the factors that affect communication development in the under-threes, and training in how to cascade ELDP principles to other early years, health and family support practitioners. The programme provides practical activities, resources and approaches that practitioners can use to support parents to develop their child’s speech, language and communication development.
Early years practitioners are informed and engaged with the issue, thanks to initiatives such as ELDP, Every Child A Talker and The Communication Trust’s Hello Campaign. But we must all continue to work together in conjunction with parents to ensure that all children develop a solid foundation in communication and language and that those who struggle receive the right help and support.