On 7 March 2019, we marked one year since the publication of Bercow: Ten Years On – An independent review of provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) in England.
As anniversaries go, this was one to remember. We might not have had Champagne and chocolates, but with big changes and developments regarding support for young children’s early language development, there was certainly some cause for celebration.
When the report was written in March 2018, it described a fragmented system, failing many children and young people with SLCN by not identifying their needs early enough, nor putting in place effective support.
It described inequality – a postcode lottery of services where the provision children received was dependent on where they lived and often on which school or setting they went to. The report made 47 recommendations to Government and strategic decision-makers.
One year later, 17 of these recommendations have been fully achieved, with many others well on the way. You can read all about these in our one year anniversary report.
Highlights include: the joint working between the DfE and Public Health England, which is really changing approaches to support for children’s early language. Together, they are funding the development of a pathway for identification and support for SLCN in children aged birth to five.
In the same activity, a training programme for health visitors has been commissioned and a new validated assessment tool for early language will be developed. For a long time, data collected through health visitor checks was kept separate from progress data in school. Now, Public Health England has integrated data from health and education on children’s speech, language and communication development through its Fingertips tool. Using this data, local areas will find it easier to analyse and plan based on local needs.
As well as this, several recent DfE grants have put the spotlight on children’s early language: Changing the Conversation about Language aims to transform the way parents support early language across three mayoral regions; the Early Years SEND project is training settings and supporting practitioners to develop a local SLCN pathway; and the DfE’s home learning environment work includes clear messages about early language, and information for parents as part of its Chat, Play, Read campaign.
This noise in the early years reflects the priority we see on narrowing the vocabulary gap between children growing up in disadvantaged areas and their more affluent peers.
When Damian Hinds announced last summer his ambition to cut in half the number of children starting school with poor communication skills over the next ten years, this really put the issue in the public consciousness.
WORK TO DO
The big question is, is this enough? No, it’s not. It marks a very good start, but there is much more we need to do:
- It’s great to have this focus on children’s early language. It would be even better if this focus continued into the school years. Children need good language skills right through their education – to learn, develop literacy skills, get on with people, manage their emotions and ultimately to gain employment.
- We welcome the development of an SLCN pathway for children aged birth to five. It would be even better if this was extended beyond age five. Early intervention is important, and for many children with SLCN this is needed not just early on in their life but when they start school, or when they start to find learning hard in Key Stage 2, or when learning becomes more technical in secondary school.
- We’ve seen good engagement from Ofsted, the DfE and Public Health England. It would be even better if this also happened with the Department of Health and Social Care. With joint commissioning of support crucial for children with SLCN, making plans collaboratively is important.
- It’s good to see widespread recognition of the well-evidenced fact that children growing up in areas of social disadvantage are at a much greater risk of delayed language development. It would be even better if there was equivalent recognition of other high-risk groups: children with mental health issues, looked-after children, children excluded from school – in all of these groups of vulnerable children there is a high prevalence of SLCN, often unidentified.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
We need to ensure the momentum from Bercow: Ten Years Oncarries on and results in more direct action to help these children.
In this regard, it’s been hugely encouraging to see the level of engagement across early years settings, schools and speech and language therapists. In the early years, the number of initiatives currently under way in early years settings is really exciting. What is important now is that these initiatives are not ‘one-offs’.
The most effective way to ensure change is sustained is to take a system-wide approach. We need a cross-Government strategy for children, with speech, language and communication at its core, overseen by a cross-Government ministerial group.
In the meantime, there are lots of ways to get involved and help children with SLCN in your area. Follow the campaign on social media (#speakupforcommunication and #speakupforSLCN) or visit www.bercow10yearson.com/bercow-ten-years-on-one-year-on.