The Bercow Report: Ten Years On was published in 2018 and it has shown that while there are improvements there are still frustrations for learners aged 0-19 and their families. These frustrations include the patchy provision of speech and language support and other key services including the availability of specialist educational support for these learners.
There are more than 1.4 million children in the UK with speech, language and communication needs (“SLCN”) which equates to 10 per cent. of all children.
Children in areas of social disadvantage are more likely to experience difficulties in communication according to the report with over 50 per cent of children in these areas starting school with identified SLCN.
The impact of poor communication skills
As any parent of a child with SLCN already knows, SLCN can have a significant impact on the educational progress of learners, their wellbeing and life chances.
The Bercow Report 10 Years on found that:
- 15% of pupils with identified SLCN achieved expected standards in reading, writing and maths by the start of secondary school compared with 61% of all pupils;
- Only 20.3% of pupils with SLCN gained grade 4/C or above in English and maths at GCSE, compared with 63.9% of all pupils;
- 81% of children with emotional and behavioural disorders have unidentified language difficulties;
- Young people referred to mental health services are three times more likely to have SLCN than those who have not been referred;
- Children with poor vocabulary skills are twice as likely to be unemployed when they reach adulthood; and
- 60% of young offenders have low language skills.
School places for these learners who make up one of the largest groups of those with Education and Health Care Plans should, in our view, be a high priority to ensure that there is enough high quality provision.
Learners with SLCN in mainstream schools
Many learners with SLCN are in mainstream provision. Some schools make a great effort to support learners with communication difficulties and with the shortages in speech and language provision in many local areas schools have been seeking to pay for additional private provision for learners where budgets allow.
However, we have clients who have not received the speech and language therapy specified in their child’s education and health care plan (“EHCP”) due to shortages in therapists.
The Bercow Report 10 Years On found that 53 per cent of parents answering the report’s questionnaire did not believe that their child was receiving the right support in order to develop their language skills in school.
Specialist provision for SLCN
Our research shows that there are significant shortages in specialist educational provision for learners with SLCN in some areas. This is important given that many parents are unhappy with the way that communication skills are being developed in their child’s existing school. If there were more specialist provision, this would give parents more options.
In the 31 London Boroughs, our research indicates that there is specialist provision for under 4 per cent of all learners with SLCN. Some boroughs have no specialist provision of any type.
Speech and language units
The specialist provision that is available includes speech and language units attached to mainstream schools which tend to be more common for primary ages. These can also be known as “Additionally Resourced Provision” or “Resource Bases”.
Most of these units take a maximum of 20 or so children and while many boroughs might support parents choosing an out of borough local authority maintained school placement such as a specialist unit our research indicates that these units tend to be over subscribed with local applicants and are unlikely to be able to accept out of borough placements. These units are hard to find and the only reliable public source of information is each Local Authority’s Local Offer which is found online.
The provision in a speech and language unit generally involves smaller class sizes with a curriculum focussed on the development of communication skills. While speech and language therapists may teach some of the lessons, it is unlikely that there would be significant one to one direct speech therapy from a speech and language therapist so if your child would still need 1-2 sessions of direct therapy a week this kind of provision may not be suitable or you may need to seek additional funding for speech and language therapy.
It is worth investigating each unit as the provision on offer and degree of inclusion with other mainstream students can really vary. For example, many learners could benefit from occupational therapy provision too and this may or may not be available depending upon local circumstances.
Speech and language focussed specialist schools
There are also specialist schools focussing on SLCN students. Our experience is that these schools can be oversubscribed with the nearest school some distance away. However, they can provide a greater level of support than available elsewhere.
Therefore, it is vital to identify the type of student that the school is looking for as quickly as possible to avoid spending significant time investigating an option that may be unlikely to be the right placement or have space for your child.
We always recommend visiting schools that may be of interest as soon as possible and seeking to discuss with the school the nature of their provision and your view of what your child needs in order to see if the school could be suitable.
You will wish to compare what your child needs in terms of class size, direct therapy support including speech and language therapy, occupational therapy and any other support and or interventions that are helpful in order to see if the school would be able to offer that amount of support.
Other specialist settings
You may find that there are “generalist” specialist schools for specific or other types of learning difficulty that could be options for you. However, if you are looking for a significant amount of one to one direct therapy support this may not be available in schools that cater for a variety of additional needs although many may offer speech and language and social skills groups. You will need to check the level of work in the group sessions and how similar the targets and levels that learners are working at compared to your child’s needs for support.
How to get help
The communication charities such as I Can (which runs a useful enquiry service) and the Communication Trust are a great source of information and there are additional materials that we have found useful in our resources section.
The best way to find out about speech and language units attached to mainstream provision is to check out your local authority’s local offer for SEND online.
If you need help with any SEN school search we can also help you. For £45 a specialist from our team can speak with you for an hour on our telephone helpline and we also offer longlist and shortlist plus placement support SEND school search services.
We have had a great deal of success helping families finding schools for their SEND learners because of the expertise of our team and also our in-house database that includes all types of settings. In our experience, it is crucial to make sure you are aware of all possible options in your search area in order to stand the best chance of finding the right setting. Do reach out to our team if think we may be able to help you.