SNJ Giveaway: Making speech, language and communication a burning issue

I am delighted to introduce today's guest post (and giveaway) from Shona Crichton.  As a mum of a child with speech, language and communication needs, I love the work of The Communication Trust and Shona is a Professional Advisor for them.  The Communication Trust is a coalition of 50 voluntary and community organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication.  Shona has worked as a speech and language therapist in early years and education for almost 10 years, working in clinical practice in children’s centres, community health clinics and mainstream primary schools.

Shining a light on SLCN in secondary aged pupils – The facts

  • In the UK, over one million children and young people – that’s two – three in every UK classroom – have some form of long term and persistent speech, language and communication difficulty. This can affect them early, severely and for life[1].
  • Although numbers of children and young people identified in schools with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) as their primary need has increased by around 70% over the last six years, true challenges are facing the education profession around identification of SLCN, particularly at secondary.
  • Annual Department for Education SEN statistics demonstrate that SLCN is the most common type of primary need for pupils with SEN statements in maintained primary schools. Despite this, a significant proportion of pupils identified as having SLCN in primary school are then identified as having some other kind of SEN need or in fact no special needs at all at secondary school[2].
  • Statistics revealed by the Department for Education[3], showed that 86.2% pupils with SLCN did not achieve the expected at least 5 GCSEs at grades A* to C (including english and maths) in comparison to 29.6% of pupils with no SEN.

[1]A Generation Adrift, The Communication Trust (2013)

[2]Meschi, E., Micklewright J., Vignoles, A and Lindsay, G. (2012) The transitions between categories of special educational needs of pupils with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) as they progress through the education system. Better Communication Research Programme

[3] Based on DfE publication SFR42/2014–September 2014

snj speech giveawayAny practitioner or parent who is reading this blog will know that speech, language and communication skills are central skills for life. Communication is at the core of every child and young person’s learning, behaviour, social and emotional development.

A solid foundation in speech, language and communication is essential as a basis to allow other skills to develop. Here at The Communication Trust we believe that making speech, language and communication a burning issue and empowering the workforce will help towards every child and young person being enabled to communicate to the best of their ability.

Identifying SLCN

Many children follow the expected pattern of development for their speech, language and communication at the expected times. Some, however, do not. These children are described as having speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

SLCN can be difficult to spot and this is hugely challenging for parents and practitioners alike. Too often children and young people’s needs are missed altogether, or misinterpreted as a different need, such as a learning, behaviour, social or emotional difficulty.

Although there have been some improvements in how many children and young people are being identified as having SLCN, the figures still don’t match up. Despite accepted prevalence figures that approximately 7% of children and young people have a difficulty that specifically affects their language skills, research completed as part of the landmark Better Communication Research Programme (BCRP) found that only 3% of primary school pupils are ever identified as having SLCN. By the time children reach the age of 16, only 0.6% of pupils are identified

A pilot project run by The Communication Trust, Talk of the Town, found that on average, around 40% of children with SLCN, including language delay, were not being identified in schools.

Children who were most difficult to spot were older students, students who had difficulties with vocabulary (45% not identified), those who struggled with formulating sentences (52% not identified) and children with difficulties understanding (29% not identified). 48% of pupils with SLCN in Key Stage 3 were not identified, despite a highly committed staff team. So, we know we need to do more to support those who are working with children and young people every day to identify children who are struggling.

Developing tools to help

With this in mind, we set out to develop The Speech, Language and Communication Progression Tools to help identify children. They’re a practical, accessible and simple resource to support practitioners to see clearly the speech, language and communication development of individual children and young people, leading to more accurate identification of what they need.

There’s a Progression Tool available whether a practitioner works with three year olds or 18 year olds. The tools look at a range of speech, language and communication skills; through a combination of direct questions and classroom observations, allowing those who are working with children and young people to build a picture of their skills, strengths and needs. The tools can also be used at a later time to monitor progress, perhaps as a result of a specific intervention, or targeted group support that children or young people have received.

Given the prevalence figures and the central role that speech, language and communication plays, it’s important for practitioners to feel skilled and confident in using the tools and resources available to them to identify and support children and young people who are having difficulties.

Teachers and other practitioners working in education face a wide range of different SLCN.In mainstream schools, however, teachers themselves express a lack of confidence in knowing how to identify and support children and young people with SLCN.

The good news about the Progression Tools is that you don’t have to be a speech and language therapist to use them. They’re not designed to be a formal, standardised assessment that will give you all the answers you need about a child or young person’s speech, language and communication skills.

They are however intended as a first step to identifying pupils who might be struggling and getting them the most suitable support that they need, whether that’s an onward referral to a speech and language specialist, a targeted group intervention specific to their needs, or continuation of universal good practice to enable them to maximise their speech, language and communication skills.

The tools are also useful in ensuring that children’s needs aren’t misinterpreted. For example, if you see a child or young person struggling with their literacy, learning, developing friendships or behaviour, using the tools can helpto check out whether they do in fact have an underlying speech, language and communication difficulty. It’s this accurate identification of needs that’s essential for children and young people in reaching their potential.

Schools also told us how the information and results gathered had been shared with colleagues in senior leadership, as well as with parents and carers as a catalyst to begin conversations about how best to support pupils’ needs.

We know that early identification of children’s needs is vital, whenever those needs become apparent. That might be when a child is three years old, or when they’re 16 years old. Only once children and young people’s needs are accurately identified that the correct support can be put in place and pupils can progress and achieve.

You can find out more about the tools and how to use them as well as other resources and information for practitioners and parents from The Communication Trust website.

Your chance to win

The Communication Trust offers a wide range of toolkits across the early years, primary and secondary age ranges.  They are a great resource - both for families and practitioners.

To be in with a chance to win the toolkit of your choice, just complete the following:

The winner will be chosen, at random, on Friday 19 June and we will contact the winner by email shortly after the draw.

Good luck!

Debs Aspland
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