Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

20% of UK pupils are behind with their speech and language, new report shows

An estimated 1.9 million children are behind on their speech and language – including talking and/or understanding words – which is the highest number ever recorded.

The report, Listening to unheard children, by charity Speech and Language UK also found that just 53% of teachers surveyed felt they have sufficient training to support pupils’ speech and language in the classroom.

Almost three quarters of teachers who took part in the research added that they think children’s speech and language is not prioritised by the government.

Jane Harris, Speech and Language UK’s chief executive said: “A lack of investment and prioritisation, and a difficult pandemic has created an alarming number of children struggling with talking and understanding words.

“Our education system has repeatedly failed to recognise that children with speech and language challenges will also struggle with reading, writing and maths. For the 1.9 million children affected, this impacts every aspect of their lives. They are more likely to fail in key subjects at school, more likely to be lonely, have mental health problems, and to be out of work as an adult.”

Need increased training for teachers

The charity is calling on the government and school leaders to introduce a new tool for schools to track talking and understanding of words at Key Stages 1 and 2, similar to that used for tracking progress in literacy and numeracy, as well as increased training for all teachers and early years practitioners to spot children struggling with speech and language.

Further recommendations made in the report include:

  • Produce guidance for schools about evidence-based tools and programmes for children with speech and language challenges of all ages that schools can deliver without specialist support.
  • Fund a more ambitious campaign to give all new parents advice on speech and language development, in the same way they get information on feeding babies and vaccinations.
  • Push the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to develop the first ever guidance on support for children with speech and language challenges in its 24-year history.

Harris added: “As we approach a General Election, we hope that all political parties will put speech, language and communication skills at the centre of their education plans. If you remember one thing from this year’s polling it should be this – 1.9 million children in the UK are relying on us to act. After unprecedented challenges to our education system, they can’t afford to wait.”

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