Virginia Beardshaw I CAN CEO Eds

I CAN’s 125th Anniversary – Reflections from Virginia Beardshaw CEO

Yesterday was I CAN’s actual 125th birthday – something really to celebrate.

I CAN stands proudly today as an organisation established 125 years ago to help vulnerable children – our job in 1888, and our job now.

For the past 60 years I CAN has worked to ensure that all children can communicate to the best of their ability, and to make sure that children who have speech, language and communication needs have their difficulties recognised and addressed.

Our mission tugs at the heart strings: ‘To make sure that no child is left out or left behind because of a difficulty speaking or understanding’.

The I CAN of today takes our expertise in speech and language to reach out into early years settings and schools across the country so that all children can develop their communication skills to the best of their ability, and that children who struggle with communication can have their needs addressed.

This is not as simple as it sounds.

I CAN has the expertise, the evidence and the track record. With three children with SLCN in every classroom the need is very real and very pressing.

But many settings and schools are unaware of the knock on impacts of poor language on children’s literacy, numeracy and behaviour, even though speech, language and communication needs is the most prevalent special educational need for children at primary school age.

Now, with the Children and Families Bill, soon to be enacted, there’s a golden opportunity.

We know that the eventual Act will mean a very welcome new emphasis on improving universal services for all children. We also welcome its emphasis on a graduated approach to Special Educational Needs.

I CAN is out to reach all settings and schools with our solutions to help them make a positive difference for all children and those that struggle. And with our new I CAN network of accredited tutors and new partnerships with organisations like Achievement for All we have the systems to get our programmes there.

But the new approach proposed in the Children and Families Bill would not be without its risks. The emphasis on school based support in the reforms should provide a way that responsibilities for schools should be matched with I CAN’s expertise and practical solutions.

We urgently need more focus and guidance in the legislation which provides schools with reasons to focus on approaches like ours which work, and which makes them accountable for doing so.

There is still so much more to do. The number of children reported with poor speech, language and communication is growing. Numbers of children reported with SLCN has increased 72 per cent over five years – and yet we know that children with SLCN are still under-identified.

Poor language is a particular issue for children in disadvantaged communities. Developing children’s language skills is central to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty and boosting attainment.

A landmark study from the OECD published earlier this autumn, set out to measure the level of skills within the adult population. Shockingly, England is placed 22nd for literacy and 21st for numeracy out of 24 countries. All of us at I CAN know that children and young people’s poor speech, language and communication skills fuel these dismal results.

Poor communication skills impact on a child’s educational outcomes, ability to be an active member of society and future life chances. Young people with poor communication skills are overwhelmingly over represented in the youth offending population and those Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET).

Upwards of 50% of children in deprived areas already start school with poor language – a frightening number of children who, without support, will find it difficult to succeed at school and in later life.

Good communication skills are essential for getting a job in 21st century Britain. They underpin children’s life chances.

So in our 125th Anniversary year, I CAN is calling on government to address children’s poor communication as a 21st century public health issue.

Speech, Language and Communication is vital to children’s development and – if unaddressed – is as dangerous as childhood obesity. In areas of social deprivation, with poor language levels soaring, we need to act now and get families and children the help they need at the earliest possible stage.

I CAN continue to strive to meet the needs of children and young people’s communication. We are aiming to get our programmes and interventions from birth to 19 years into every UK nursery, primary and secondary school to ensure that no young person is destined to a life of unfulfilled potential.

You are all our valued friends and supporters. Stand with us and support us in raising this vital issue