Speech, language and communication is fundamental to children's development. Children with underdeveloped SLCN skills (which is more common that you might think) can neither learn or achieve as well as their peers, and support for SLCN is vital for children with disabilities.
But last year, a decade since the Bercow report on SLCN, it was revealed that promises made by the government had largely not been kept. Then, the children's communication charity, I CAN, wrote on SNJ about looking ahead to the future after the #Bercow10Yearson report they wrote with the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT). Today, we're reviewing what that 'future' has brought, if anything, over the past year - have things got any better?
Bob Reitemeier CBE, Chief Executive of ICAN and Kamini Gadhok MBE, CEO of the RCSLT, have written for SNJ about what's been achieved since since their report - and what still needs to be done.
Bercow Ten Years On – not resting on our laurels
by Bob Reitemeier CBE, Chief Executive of ICAN and Kamini Gadhok MBE
Children’s early language is an issue the Government is trying to give greater priority to, but is it doing enough for all children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN)? For school-aged children and those with long-term SLCN, such as developmental language disorder (DLD), there has been little change over the past 12 months.
Right now, only 3% of school pupils are identified with SLCN as their primary need, whilst thousands of children and young people fail to receive the support they require. Around 1.4m children and young people in the UK have such needs – when you consider the impact on their life chances, urgent action is required. They cannot afford for us to fail them.
Over the past year, I CAN, the children’s communication charity and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) have been using the success of our ground-breaking report, Bercow: Ten Years On, to address this directly. The report made 47 recommendations aimed at decision-makers. They were accompanied by a range of practical, online resources to support parents, carers and practitioners to take action.
This call-to-action manifested in over 11,000 people signing a petition, which called on the Government to apply its recommendations. We have also channelled this energy into influencing opinion-formers and decision-makers across the political divide.
Navigating the sea of issues with which Westminster is currently grappling with has not been easy but 12 months on from Bercow: Ten Years On, we have helped facilitate one parliamentary debate, had over 80 parliamentary questions answered and held two high-level meetings with ministers, pushing this issue to the top of politicians’ priorities.
Because of this great work, 17 of the recommendations have been achieved completely, whilst several others are in the process of being implemented.
This significant progress is welcome. However, more needs to be done to keep this momentum going. The time has come for less conversation and more action.
That’s why we have launched a first anniversary update on Bercow: Ten Years On, which sets out where we are and the urgent action that now needs to be undertaken.
As our update makes clear, immediate action is required on: joint commissioning; support for children with long-term, persistent speech, language and communication needs; professional development; incentivising schools; and better support for vulnerable groups of children and young people.
Overall, moves to establish a strategic approach to planning and commissioning support across the age range for children and young people with communication needs have been limited.
As part of the campaign, we have enlisted over 60 other like-minded organisations across the children and young people’s sector to sign a joint letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to heed our message and build on work the Government is currently undertaking.
We hope this will pressure the Government into giving serious consideration to the first anniversary update’s findings and implement this set of recommendations. Employing a cross-Government strategy for children with speech, language and communication at its core would help ensure a better future for children and young people throughout England.
Please join us in speaking up and fighting for the many children and young people in your families, communities, workplaces or settings with SLCN, so we can stop more children from falling through the cracks, unlock their potential and put this issue firmly back in the spotlight. Now is the time to #speakupforcommunication and to #speakupforSLCN.
Bob Reitemeier CBE is Chief Executive at I CAN, the children’s communication charity. Bob joined I CAN as a Chief Executive in January 2016 and has over 30 years’ experience in the voluntary sector in England and internationally. Prior to his appointment at I CAN, he was Chief Executive of Essex Community Foundation and Chief Executive of The Children’s Society. He received a CBE for services to children in 2012.
Kamini Gadhok MBE has been Chief Executive of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists since December 2000. It provides leadership for the profession and supports improvements to services for people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). In addition to her role as CEO, Kamini has been a trustee for Warwick University since 2016. Kamini received an MBE in June 2009 for services to the allied health professions.