11 July 2008

Speech Testing

I've just been reading sbout the government-commissioned Bercow review of speech and language services which says improving communication skills is key to raising educational standards. The report suggests that all children should be assessed for speech problems at the start of primary and secondary school.

Up to half the children in some areas of England have significant problems, but many have to fight for support. Ministers accepted the points raised by the review and announced a £40m package for the training of early years staff and a further £12m will be spent on implementation and a plan would be published in the autumn, says the government's response.

Conservative MP John Bercow's review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs suggests about 40,000 children, or 7%, are starting primary school in England each year with significant difficulties with speech and or language, but the rates are much higher in areas of social deprivation, with up to 50% having speech and language skills lower than expected for their age, the report says. Without the help they need these children will do worse at school, could develop emotional and behavioural problems and may descend into criminality, it argues. Mr Bercow said families faced a "postcode lottery" of provision and shortages of speech experts in most areas of the country. He said communication skills that were essential to life were not being prioritised in schools, especially in the early years. "This is severely hampering children's ability to develop the necessary life skills to participate in and contribute to society when they get older," he added. Experts argue, however, that with early intervention and the right support most communication problems can be overcome. Ministers accepted that more surveillance and monitoring of children's language skills were needed, but suggested extra training of early years staff would enable them to better pick up language problems.

The report also suggested that Sir Jim Rose should be asked to see how a speech and language focus could be put into primary schools as part of his review of the primary curriculum.
Children's secretary Ed Balls said it was clear that local services needed to improve and that he was convinced improvements could now be made.

The report also makes recommendations on how services best be provided. It finds that there is a lack of strategic planning and oversight of what is needed in many local areas, this should be better organised, so it suggests a named person should have the responsibility for commissioning communication provision in each local area. It also calls for a communication champion or tsar, charged with driving things forward, to be appointed and a communication council be established to develop over-arching policy and ensure the implementation of the review. There should be a significant national campaign on the issue building up to a national year of speech, language and communication.

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