Systemic problems mask children’s SLCN

Children can wait up to two years before getting support with their SLCN.

The number of children identified with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) grew by more than 70 per cent from 2005 to 2011, according to the most comprehensive study of children’s SLCN ever undertaken in England. However, the research suggests that there are still significant systemic problems in identifying those with SLCN and adapting teaching to meet their needs.

The Department for Education (DfE) issued its report on the Better Communication Research Programme (BCRP) on 27 December 2012, following a three year study. The publication of the report is the final act of the DfE’s Better Communication Action Plan, initiated as a result of recommendations in John Bercow’s 2008 Review of Services for Children and Young People with Speech, Language and Communication Needs.

The report also found that parents are experiencing long waits, in some cases up to two years, from when difficulties are identified to support being made available. Children with SLCN receive three times less support from teaching assistants than some other groups of children with SEN. In addition, only half of teachers observed were using specific strategies to support children’s language and literacy needs.

The study concluded that evidenced interventions should be offered at universal, targeted and specialist level to meet the needs of children and young people across early years, primary and secondary education.

The report has received a positive response from many in the children’s communication sector. Virginia Beardshaw, Chief Executive of the children’s communication charity I CAN, said that the report would help to demystify SLCN. “Parents, professionals and policy makers find SLCN difficult to deal with because it is a complex and challenging area – but it is absolutely fundamental to children’s futures”, she said.

Anne Fox, Director of The Communication Trust, also welcomed the report, but she cautioned that “This significant investment in research now needs to be brought to life in the places where children spend their days.”

The BCRP, run by Professor Geoff Lindsay at CEDAR, University of Warwick, involved a wide range of stakeholders from across the academic, charity and government sectors. Professor Julie Dockrell (Institute of Education, University of London), Professor James Law (Newcastle University) and Professor Sue Roulstone (University of West of England) were Project Co-directors.

The report can be found at:

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  1. We are experiencing difficulties getting support from our local Speech and Language Therapy department for our adopted daughter. Following a series of assessments it has been concluded that her speech and language is over two years behind (she is 7). However, because she has global learning delay SALT have taken her off their register and referred any support back to school saying there is nothing more they can do because all her learning is so far behind. Our argument has been that surely the specialist support of SALT is vital now in terms of her development rather than relying on teachers at her school to carry out the work, after all school are already working hard to improve the other areas of her learning e.g. Reading, writing, maths etc. Despite outlining this to our local Therapy department, they have told us in no uncertain terms that they will not make an exception as they are following national policy. As far as we are concerned, national policy need changing.

  2. Is there any research on the particular nature of these SLCN problems, what might underlie them and the reason why they have increased so dramatically?

  3. Hi Paul – A lot of research has been done on SLCN in recent years and the report details/references quite a lot of it. Click on the link at the end of the article.


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