UK: I CAN chief executive, Virginia Beardshaw, wants language experts for most needy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Tue Jul 15 18:03:49 UTC 2008

I CAN chief executive, Virginia Beardshaw, wants language experts for most needy

There's a silent epidemic affecting British children and, like most
epidemics, it hits children from disadvantaged backgrounds the
hardest. In some deprived parts of the UK upwards of 50 per cent of
children arrive at school without the speech, language and
communication skills they need to learn. Unable to understand a simple
instruction, they are on the back foot from Day1. Speech and language
problems are the most common form of developmental delay in young
children. I CAN, a children's charity, estimates that 10 per cent of
all UK children have some form of persistent speech, language and
communication need (SLCN) that requires ongoing support.

The Bercow Review last week highlighted the importance of language
skills for every aspect of children's development. This drew a £52
million response from the Government and acceptance of all 40
recommendations. Why? Because the links are finally being made that
language is the springboard for all children's learning, attainment
and friendships. Eighteen months ago, I CAN outlined the implications
of a lack of government focus on communication skills. Unaddressed,
SLCN compromises literacy, numeracy and learning and hinders social
relationships and behaviour. Young people so affected are
significantly over-represented in the not in education, employment or
training population where each individual costs society £97,000. SLCN
also represents a significant risk factor for social exclusion and
offending and dwarfs the prevalence figures for autism and dyslexia,
yet the issue has remained invisible and unheard. This links to
entrenched systemic problems.

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Oral communication skills are neglected at every level of the UK curriculum.

The children's workforce at all levels and in all settings is
ill-equipped to support children's communication development.

The structural divide between NHS speech and language therapy services
and local authority responsibility for childcare and education serves
children and families with SLCN poorly. Speech and language therapies
often fall victim to funding disputes between the NHS and the local

Support for children with severe problems is a postcode lottery.
Research conducted for the Bercow Review illustrates that there is no
systematic approach to the provision of expert help for children with
the most severe problems locally, regionally or nationally. As a
result, centres of excellence remain vulnerable to cuts and closures
and such help as there is tends to be concentrated on younger

The Bercow proposals are practical and linked to existing policy
initiatives wherever possible. At the launch, Alan Johnson and Ed
Balls made it clear that children's communication is an issue for
health, education and the voluntary sector. The Government has
signalled the importance of the early years, spending £40 million on
an early intervention package. However, given the report's emphasis on
the large number of SLCN teenagers excluded from school, more
investment is needed here.

Given how profoundly poor communication skills impact on children and
their life chances, let's hope that both Secretaries of State can look
beyond the entrenched disputes between health and education towards an
approach that improves outcomes for children and families.

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