Will the SEND green paper deliver on government promises?

Louisa Reeves
Friday, July 29, 2022

Will Quince, the minister for school standards, has said that ’at the heart of all my thinking is how we improve the outcomes for children and young people in the SEND system.’

A public consulation has been held into the SEND review's recommendations. Picture: Adobe Stock
A public consulation has been held into the SEND review's recommendations. Picture: Adobe Stock

So, will the SEND green paper deliver on this?  

Right Support, Right Place, Right Time has just completed its consultation phase and we hope the government will take the time to listen to all the fantastic ideas from the individuals and organisations who have submitted responses. Here at I CAN, the children’s speech and language charity our responses have been about improving outcomes for the 1.5 million children who have challenges in talking and understanding words.  

Talking and understanding language are essential life skills which underpins teaching and learning throughout the education system. Children and young people who struggle with talking and understanding language, whether because of environmental factors or due to a lifelong condition like DLD (Developmental Language Disorder) or autism or cerebral palsy need support to avoid negative outcomes both for their learning and for their mental health.   

Our response to the SEND green paper covers four main proposals. We want people working in early years and schools to:

  • know which children and young people have speech and language challenges.

  • understand how to measure children's speech and language and know what to do to support it.

  • have interventions to help children catch up where possible

  • and for systems planning to be put in place from national to school level.

We conducted a survey of families of children and young people with speech, language challenges and professionals working in this area and had over 90% support for each of the measures we propose.    

So how would this work in practice?   The first step, now, is being able to measure how many children are struggling with their speech and language development.  The government funded the development of the Early Language Identification Measure (ELIM) to be used in the 2 year developmental check by Health Visitor teams as part of the Better Start in Speech, Language and Communication guidance. 

Published in 2021, this is not widely used, and data isn’t gathered at either a local or national level.  We propose that the ELIM should be rolled out more widely and the data collected so a national picture of need at two years old is established.  But some children’s speech and language challenges do not become apparent until they start school. Teaching staff have tools they can use to track children’s literacy and numeracy development, but they don’t have access to readily available, evidenced and easy to use tools to track children’s speech and language.  We are calling on the government to use a similar commissioning approach to the ELIM by involving academics -who understand how speech and language develops- and teachers to develop a freely accessible tracking tool to be used at the start of KS1 and KS2.  This would mean that schools can identify and plan for the children in their school who need additional support. Gathering this data at a local and national level would mean workforce planning would be informed by accurate information on the needs of children.  

But it’s not enough to have a tool to use, the children’s workforce needs to understand how speech and language develops, how to use the tools they have and adapt their teaching styles, so they are to support children.  

All teachers will have children with speech, language and communication needs in their class throughout their careers. We are calling for content on speech and language development to be included in Initial Teacher Training and the Early Careers Framework as well as in the National Professional Qualifications such as Leading Literacy; Leading Behaviour and Culture; Early Years Leadership and the newly proposed SENCo qualification.  Speech and language underpins learning and behaviour so it makes sense to include this vital area of knowledge in continuing professional development programmes for teachers as well.  

Once teaching staff know which children are struggling and understand why they can support many by adapting their teaching, but they also need interventions and strategies to help those who need something more targeted. At the moment only one programme of help for reception-aged children is officially endorsed. This isn’t enough when we know that children of all ages are struggling with speech and language, particularly after lockdowns. We host the What Works database of evidence interventions, supported by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and we propose the government supports the development of this database so that it becomes a go-to source for schools of evidenced interventions that work for children who are struggling. The government must acknowledge that for some children easy and timely access to specialist support is essential.

We are calling on the DfE to work with the DCHS to ensure that specialists such as speech and language therapists and occupational therapists are able to support children at all levels of SEND, not just those with EHCPs (Education, Health and Care Plans). 

Which leads us to planning - speech and language challenges are widespread, especially post-covid and ensuring positive outcomes for this group of children and young people requires joined up strategic thinking at all levels. Existing and new sources of data must be collated and collected so that we have an accurate picture of where children are struggling most so that schools, local government and Multi-Academy Trusts and Government can plan and put in the right services.  The new Regional SEND bodies could use this data and so could Multi-Academy Trusts, Local authorities and Schools to develop a strategic graduated approach to meet children’s needs. Some children could then get short-term support so they could catch up. Many more teachers could learn how to adapt their teaching practice to children’s long-term needs. And more speech and language specialist services could be put in place for children who really need long-term, ongoing therapy.

A group of young people with speech, language and communication needs at one of our specialist schools, Dawn House gave their feedback too. They shared their views on the value of special schools, the most important parts of the Education, Health and Care Plan for them, and what support they need to help prepare for adulthood. Their input is really important and we’re glad they got the chance to share their views. We are all looking forward to hearing how the government will take these into account.

By working with parents and families of young people and organisations such as I CAN, the government has the opportunity to ensure the best outcomes for the 1.4 million children and young people with speech and language challenges at every stage.  

Louisa Reeves is head of impact and research for I CAN – the children’s communication charity

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