Co-ordinated by I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the open letter from bodies representing children’s health and social care, education, justice, disability and poverty, comes a year after the publication of the Bercow: Ten Years On report, which looked at the state of provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in England.
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Evidence submitted to the inquiry revealed that the wider workforce did not have the skills to identify children and young people’s SLCN, and that as a result many children and young people were not getting specialist support or often had a long wait to have their needs assessed and supported.
Of the 47 recommendations made in the report, 17 have been implemented, but the organisations say more needs to be done.
A YouGov survey of more than 1,000 parents carried out to coincide with the report’s anniversary found that 59 per cent of parents still had to fight to get their children the support they needed.
Meanwhile, 42 per cent of parents who didn’t feel that their child was getting the right amount of support for their SLCN, believed it was having a negative impact on their child’s mental health.
The letter to the Prime Minister calls for ‘a cross-government strategy to ensure the join up of education, health, justice and care.’
While it says that there has been some ‘encouraging action’ from Government, including the Department for Education’s focus on closing the word gap, and the decision to recommission joint special educational needs and disability inspections from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, it highlights five areas where ‘urgent action’ is needed. They are:
A focus on joint commissioning based on analysis of local need to end the postcode lottery of provision.
More than 10 per get of children have SLCN that need support ‘well beyond their early years’, so measures to improve access for school-age children and young people that includes universal and targeted support are needed.
A national training programme for teaching assistants and teachers to enable them to identify children who have SLCN as early as possible.
Pressure on school budgets means schools need to ‘be encouraged from the top to give speech, language, and communication the priority it deserves’. This should include guidance to schools and other education settings on how they can use their pupil premium funding to develop language skills, as well as ensuring Ofsted inspectors consider the way that teaching improves and supports pupils with SLCN.
Some groups of vulnerable children and young people are more likely to have SLCN, including looked-after children, children excluded from school, in the justice system, and those with mental health problems. Practitioners need to be trained to recognise SLCN and have access to specially commissioned speech and language therapy services for young people who need them.
Bob Reitemeier, chief executive at I CAN, said, ‘Since we launched the Bercow: Ten Years On report, last year, the Government has made inroads to improving the support available to children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. Language development for children under age five is high on the Government’s agenda, but for school-age children, and those with long-term needs, such as developmental language disorder, there has been little change.'
Kamini Gadhok, chief executive of the RCSLT, added, ‘The Government’s ambition to tackle social mobility by supporting early language development is clear. However, around 1.4 million children and young people have speech, language and communication needs and need help during and well-beyond the early years.
‘The implementation of a cross-Government strategy for children and young people – involving health and social care, education and justice would enable children and young people to fulfil their potential.’
The YouGov survey also found that even when parents did receive help 55 per cent of them felt it wasn’t enough for their child.
Almost half (48 per cent) of parents who said there was a lack of support available for their child said it had a negative effect on their child’s education, and 42 per cent said it had affected their child’s mental health.
More than 8 in 10 parents of children without SLCN said their GP would be the first port of call for help if they were worried about their child’s language development.
The charities said it was therefore crucial that GPs and the wider workforce were better trained in identifying and responding to children and young people’s SLCN.