As a speech and language therapist, it’s a no-brainer that speech, language and communication skills come top of my priority list when I think about what’s important for children. But what do others think?

A couple of major reports show just how aware teachers are the importance of good spoken language skills in children; in one survey, over two thirds of teachers across primary and secondary schools felt it was very important that communication skills were taught in schools. Another saw language as opening doors, unlocking the world of reading, writing, learning and releasing children’s potential to grow.

If anything, employers see communication skills as even more critical. Time and again employer surveys rate young people’s communication skills as themost important skill needed for their first job.

And young people themselves recognise this:

“Good communication is one of the most important skills anyone could have..”

“Oh my God, it just affects everything.”

There is plenty of robust evidence that supports these opinions.

  • Language at age two predicts reading, maths and writing when children start school

  • Early language is the single most important factor in influencing literacy levels at age 11. More important than behaviour, peer relationships, emotional wellbeing, positive interaction and attention

  • Vocabulary at age 5 is also linked with wider outcomes in mental health and employment in adulthood.

Up to 50% of children can start school with limited language skills

People knowing about children’s speech language and communication matters; not just because these are crucial foundation skills – but also because so many children have difficulty developing them. Around 10% of all children and young people have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) that they will not grow out of. In areas of disadvantage this number grows: upwards of 50% of children can start school with limited language skills. Without support, these needs impact on learning, on learning to read, on emotional and social development as well as impacting long-term on children’s life chances. Knowing about speech, language and communication helps to ensure that these children are identified as early as possible so that they have a chance of getting the support they need.

It’s great to see that it’s not just people like me who feel spoken language is important. However, there’s still a way to go. Bercow: Ten Years On, a national review of provision for children and young people with SLCN found a lack of awareness of the importance of children’s communication, especially in decision-makers. The report of the review, led by I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT), was published in March this year. It found that children’s communication wasn’t prioritised in national and local strategy. Because of this, the report found a lack of focus on spoken language in the way children learn, and in the systems which ensure parents and carers have the information and services they need to support early language. It found a postcode lottery of services for children with SLCN; the support children get depends on where they live and often on which school or setting they go to. 

Effective practice

More optimistically, the report also draws on the many examples of really effective practice which were presented in oral evidence sessions. From these, powerful recommendations present strategic solutions. It is encouraging that children’s early language is so prominent in the government’s Social Mobility Action Plan, with widespread recognition of the ‘word gap’ between young children in disadvantaged areas and their peers. But this isn’t enough; speech, language and communication continue to be important beyond age five. Children need language to learn, understand what they read, solve problems, manage their emotions right through adolescence and into adulthood. Likewise, many children with SLCN have long-term difficulties for which they need on-going support. More needs to be done.

The report and recommendations are complemented by a website www.bercow10yearson.com which hosts a wealth of call to action; practical steps to change for everyone: school staff, practitioners working early years, parents, young people and commissioners. Take a look, take action, sign the petition asking for a full Government response and keep up to date with progress by following #Bercow10.

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Join Mary at Achievement for All’s annual conference!

Mary is one of the many experts participating in Achievement for All’s Every Child Included in   Education conference on 17th October 2018 at Newbury Racecourse. Mary will be looking at how to improve speech, language and communication provision, providing delegates with top tips and strategies to take back to their setting.

Keynote speakers will include Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England, Emma Lewell MP, Shadow Minister for Education (children and families), June O’Sullivan MBE, Chief Executive of London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) and Thelma Walker MP, member of the Education Select Committee, amongst many others.

There will be 11 other expert panel-led sessions discussing and debating a range of topics such as Terrific Twos, excellent provision in early years, understanding children looked after, engaging children in reading, behavioural policies and vulnerable children.

A full list of speakers and breakout sessions can be found here.

Tickets cost £90 and can be booked here. Achievement for All schools and settings are eligible for a 50% discount.

Parents and carers join free and group discounts are available. Email tickets@afaeducation.org for more information.