The #SENDReview must embed Speech, Language and Communication skills across education, especially teacher training

with Amy Loxley, Lead Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN,

One of the major criticisms of the SEND Review is its silence about the revolution in SEND teacher training that is required -- both of new and existing teachers --to ensure the Green Paper's goals are reached. Another is the lack of input about the lower levels of SEN Support, where most children with additional needs are helped.

Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) is the most common of SENs, both by itself, and as part of other conditions. However, by concentrating on structures, behaviour and alternative provision, the SEND Review's proposals will have little effect on provision for children with these needs.

Children's communication charity, I CAN, say the Green Paper must include more on training and communication as it moves forward. Amy Loxley is a Lead Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN, and has written this article for SNJ about what they think the proposals are missing.

SLCN training is vital for the Government to achieve its SEND aims by Amy Loxley, I CAN

The SEND Green Paper: Right Support, Right Place, Right Time has identified three main challenges facing the current system:

  1. Outcomes for children and young people with SEN and those in alternative provision are consistently poorer than their peers
  2. Navigating the system is difficult – it’s a negative experience for children, young people and families
  3. Despite significant, unprecedented investment from the government, the system is not delivering value for money and is financially unsustainable.

The Green Paper highlights a "vicious cycle" of late intervention, low confidence across the system, and inefficient allocation of resources. It outlines that settings are frequently ill-equipped to identify and effectively support needs. It calls for an inclusive education system, with improved mainstream provision supported by early and accurate identification of needs, high-quality teaching, prompt access to targeted support, and a strong specialist system with access to specialist and/or alternative provision for those with more complex needs.

What the Green Paper doesn’t set out with enough specificity though is exactly how this is going to happen and what changes will be made. At I CAN, we know that this can’t happen without an increased focus on children and young people’s speech, language and communication. Communication skills are fundamental for everything we do – without them, children will struggle to make friends, learn, have good mental health, and ultimately, get a job. Yet, our research indicated that as many as 1.5 million children in the UK are at risk of not being able to understand and use language at an age-appropriate level.

SLCN is the most common type of SEND

Department for Education figures indicate that the most common type of need among pupils on SEN support in state-funded primary schools is speech, language and communication needs, at 34%. Within this group, some children will have Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), meaning they have long-term language difficulties that create barriers to communication or learning in everyday life. Their difficulties will not resolve and are not associated with another known condition. These children need long-term changes to their education and specialist support. The condition affects approximately one million children in the UK, or two in every average class of 30. However, it's poorly understood and under-identified. We believe there are more than 300,000 children with DLD in the UK who haven't had their needs identified.

SLCN can be associated with other conditions

Other children may have speech, language and communication needs that are associated with another condition – for example, children who have language disorder associated with autism, Down’s syndrome or intellectual disability. Many of these children will need specialist support, with some needing a special school placement.

A third group of children have speech, language and communication needs related to the communication environment they live in. In disadvantaged areas, this can be up to half of all children starting school. These children require targeted support, such as an evidence-based targeted intervention programme.

The right tools and training needed in the SEND Review

Teachers need the right tools and training in order to identify and support children with speech, language and communication needs, yet in our research, 68% of teachers told us they had received “not very much” or “not any” ongoing training in supporting children who are struggling with these skills. 64% said the same about Initial Teacher Training.

The problem has only been exacerbated by COVID-19, with two-thirds of teachers feeling that Government hasn’t put in enough support for children to catch up with speech, language and communication since the pandemic.

Government has a chance to change this in the SEND Review. What we at I CAN are calling for would ensure that settings are well-equipped to identify and effectively support children and young people’s speech, language and communication. Teaching staff would know about typical development, have tools to measure and track progress and know what to do to support pupils with difficulties. Where children and young people have DLD or other lifelong speech, language and communication needs, these would be identified early and specialist services in place to support them.

Amy Loxley with blonde shoulder length straight hair with a fringe and large rounded glasses. She is wearing a red blouse
Amy Loxley

Better SLCN training for teachers is vital

To achieve the above, we are advocating for the creation of a new tool, similar to those available to track literacy and numeracy, that can be used at the start of KS1 and KS2 by class teachers to measure children’s speech, language and communication.

But just having the tools isn’t enough. We want to ensure that ALL teachers and early years practitioners have training so that they know about:

  • Identification tools they can use to spot difficulties with speech, language and communication
  • Low cost, evidence-based targeted interventions that can support pupils with speech, language and communication needs
  • How to support children and young people with DLD and other lifelong speech, language and communication needs in the classroom.

Therefore, we are asking for the Core Content Framework for Initial Teacher Training and the Early Careers Framework (ECF) to be reviewed. We are also asking for content on speech, language and communication to be deepened and broadened across the NPQ system. But it’s not just newly qualified teachers who need this training – it’s all teachers. So, we want Government to fund ongoing training programmes in speech, language and communication for existing teachers in all schools.

SENCOs need the training too

The SEND Green Paper sets out the intention to consult on the introduction of a new SENCO national professional qualification. We welcome this however, we strongly feel that the qualification needs to include training in speech, language and communication needs. With this being the most commonly identified need for pupils on SEN support in schools, it’s crucial that SENCOs know about it. We also believe that the qualification should be conditional on achieving a good level of knowledge in this area.

A cross-government SLCN strategy

Finally, we are asking the Government to develop a strategy for children’s speech, language and communication that works across government departments. The strategy should include:

  • resourcing for targeted interventions,
  • training for the children’s workforce, and
  • adequate specialist speech and language therapy support for those children and young people who need it.

The new health Integrated Care Boards must plan locally with education partners to ensure that support for speech, language, and communication, spanning low-cost interventions delivered in schools, to specialist support from speech and language therapists, is available for all children.

At I CAN, we strongly feel that of all the skills children learn in school, communication is the most important. The changes we are asking for in the SEND system would ensure that all children and young people achieve communication outcomes that prepare them for adulthood. We are asking the government to recognise the importance of these skills for children and young people and to give them the priority they deserve in the education system.

About Amy Loxley

Amy Loxley is a Lead Speech and Language Advisor for I CAN, the children’s communication charity. With over 14 years’ experience in speech and language therapy, Amy has worked with a diverse range of client groups across early years, primary and secondary phases, and in community, mainstream and specialist settings in the UK and Australia. 

Amy’s current work includes developing resources and tools for mainstream school staff to identify and support children with speech, language and communication needs, including Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). Amy is also leading on the development of digital content for I CAN’s online learning platform for school staff. Amy leads on the Constable Talk Boost project, supporting children with difficulties speaking and understanding language across five London local authorities through I CAN’s Talk Boost interventions. Finally, Amy works closely with I CAN’s Marketing and Communications teams, and is contributing to the organisation’s strategy for beneficiary engagement by leading on the development of I CAN’s Young Ambassador programme.

Also read:

  1. Whole School SEND Spotlight: Developmental Language Disorder Guide
  2. Free course: Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) in children with mental health difficulties
  3. SEND with Daulby: Supporting Oral Language difficulties
  4. Top tips for working on your child’s speech and language targets
  5. Speech and Language problems? It could be glue ear.
  6. When and how to access speech and language therapy

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