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Support for speech and language problems still limited

By Rachel Lawler

little girl, toy phone
Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are still “not sufficiently prioritised” 10 years after the Bercow Report was originally published.
 
The follow-up report found that just 26% of children with SLCN make expected progress in the EYFS compared to 69% of all children. The report argues that regional differences in access to support have created a “postcode lottery” for children with SLCN.
 
42% of parents of children with SLCN said that they felt child's needs had not been picked up on early enough. More than 50% of parents said that they had to wait for more than six months to get the help they needed for their children.
 
Bercow: 10 years on
Bercow: 10 years on argues that there is still “no joined up across education and health” to deal with the problem. The reports authors spoke to around 2,500 parents, educators and health workers through surveys, oral evidence, focus groups and three in-depth reviews of local authority areas.
 
Since 2008, the report found noted some improvements to SLCN support, including the inclusion of language and communication as one of the three prime areas of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). However it also noted that austerity and cuts to local services have seen specialist speech and language therapy job roles lost.
 
Regional inequalities
The report also highlighted inequalities in SLCN. While just over 10% of children have SLCN, in areas of social disadvantage this increases and just over 50% of children in these areas start school with delayed language or other SLCN.
 
The long-term impact of this was also noted, with children with poor vocabulary skills said to be twice as likely to be unemployed when they reach adulthood and 60% of young offenders said to have low language skills.
 
Promise "not fulfilled"
Bercow: 10 years on argues that while much good came of the original report in 2008, its “promise has not been fulfilled”. John Bercow, MP and Speaker of the House, said: “It is my hope that this report will act as a call to action to all those involved in supporting children and young people, to come together and do what is needed to make a difference to the lives of those for whom communication is more difficult.”
 
Early intervention
Melanie Pilcher, the Pre-school Learning Alliance’s quality and standards manager, commented: “Speech and language are vital building blocks for every child’s future learning and development. Early years settings have an important role to play in this. By creating a language-rich environment early years settings ensure children have the best opportunity possible to master the essential communications skills they will need throughout their lives.
 
“Early intervention is critical so, where children need further support, they benefit from having skilled childcare practitioners on hand who can identify problems at the earliest opportunity. A lack of support can have a profound impact on a child’s life chances. Parents and professionals must be able to access the support they need when they need it. It’s totally unacceptable that a decade after we reached such a clear consensus on the importance of early identification children’s futures are being thwarted by an under-resourced system where families are waiting months for a speech and language therapist.”
 
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