Children's language charity faces uncertain future

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The Communication Trust has confirmed that the Department for Education is not renewing its contract after March.

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There has been a rise in the number of young children with speech and language delay

The Trust said that it had been informed just before Christmas by the Department that it did not intend to renew the specialist speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN) contract which funds its programme of work.

Director of The Communication Trust (TCT) Octavia Holland said that this was ‘both a shock and a disappointment’. She said that the Trust was working on how to continue its core service after March.

The Trust was set up in 2007 by Afasic, BT, Council for Disabled Children and I CAN, and is a coalition of over 50 not-for-profit organisations dedicated to supporting the children’s workforce in improving children’s speech, language and communication, and acting as a hub for communications and SEN expertise.

The news comes at a time when young children's speech and language delay is of increasing concern. Health visitors have reported a rise in the number of young children with delayed speech and communication development.

A statement from the TCT addressed to ‘friends, partners and supporters’ confirmed the news.
 
It said, ’Just before Christmas we were informed that the DfE does not intend to renew the specialist SLCN contract which funds TCT's programme of work. This was both a shock and a disappointment. Although the Department has indicated that it does prioritise SLCN, unfortunately there are no plans at this stage to provide funding  for this specific area. The Department has indicated that it will consider maintaining some elements of TCT's work, or providing future funding, but there is no certainty about the position at present.’
 
‘Clearly, this will mean changes to TCT's work and is likely to lead to considerable scaling back of the support we can provide to the workforce. We are working hard to put in place plans for how we can maintain a core service beyond the end of March and will continue to update you as the picture becomes clearer. We wanted to share this with you at this stage in the interests of transparency and because the impact on the workforce, and ultimately children and young people is what matters most.
 
‘We are grateful for your ongoing support. ‘

The DfE confirmed that the one year contract with the Communication Trust for 2017-18 was due to end as planned in March 2018. It said this was clear in the original contract and in regular contract monitoring meetings with the Trust. There have been discussions about the sustainability of the work beyond the contract period.

A DfE spokesperson said, ‘The Communication Trust has done excellent work to help the education workforce in supporting those with speech language and communication needs.
 
‘This was a one year contract which is ending in March as planned. We are currently undertaking a tendering process for the next financial year to build on this work, as part of a wider contract on the Special Educational Needs workforce.’
 
The DfE said that part of the work announced in its recent report, Unlocking Talent, Fulfilling Potential, includes a focus on improving early language acquisition for disadvantaged children. It said this will include developing continuing professional development training and an early language assessment tool for health visitors and early years practitioners to ensure that any delays can be picked up and the right early support put in place.

Research published by the Early Intervention Foundation last September highlighted the impact of family economic circumstances and disadvantage on a child’s ability to develop speech, language and communication skills. It said that early language development must be prioritised as a child wellbeing indicator to close the gap between children in low-income and better-off households.

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