A Christmas round-up from our CEO

2013 was always going to be a special year for I CAN.  The charity was founded 125 years ago by Victorian social reformer Octavia Hill and the Reverend Dowdeswell Graham to help vulnerable children.

21st century I CAN is very proud to uphold their vision. For the past 60 years we’ve focussed on the vital yet neglected area of children’s speech and language development.

Our 125th Anniversary year has been action packed. We are seeing the educational landscape shift around us as austerity in the public sector cuts Local Authorities to the bone; education budgets are delegated almost wholly to schools; and academies and free schools burgeon. And, as the Children and Families Bill makes its stately way through Parliament, it becomes clearer and clearer that the Special Educational Needs system is being completely reshaped.

As 2013 began, we speculated about the reasons behind the 72% reported rise in children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) over five years detailed in the Department for Education’s Better Communication Research Programme reportsDespite the reported rise, we continue to worry about under-reporting of this high prevalence Special Educational Need. The report itself is fantastic – solid research that we will mine for years to come.

Our 125th Anniversary celebrations began in March with the launch of our new film at a wonderful reception at Fortnum and Mason for many of our supporters. As the mother of a young man with severe communication problems myself, tears come to my eyes watching it. It conveys the frustration and fear of failure that comes with living with SLCN so directly.

Achievements followed thick and fast:

March saw the end of Engage in Education, a 2-year partnership project with Catch22, supporting young people at risk of exclusion from secondary schools. I CAN’s Behaviour Talks was a key part of this, supporting adults to change their practice to improve 10-18 year olds confidence and communication skills. Young people said their improved communication skills helped them to learn – showing the link between this and overall project outcomes of increased attendance and attainment. The Education Endowment Foundation is currently funding a Randomised Control Trial of Behaviour Talks as part of Engage in Education across 40 secondary schools in London.

  • Our A Chance to Talk project, which we ran with The Communication Trust and the Every Child a Chance Trust to promote a whole school approach to children’s communication in primary schools, reported in May. Piloted in four areas with high levels of social deprivation,  A Chance to Talk achieved impressive results: children who took part on average made 50% more progress in reading and over 80% of children with language delay caught up with their peers. Read the End of Project Report.
  • I took senior officials from Ofsted, the Department for Education and the Department of Health on study visits to the Kirkby cluster of pilot schools to see firsthand how the programme helps children, families and school staff. A Chance to Talk is an object lesson of an integrated approach across health and education – just what will be required under the forthcoming SEN legislation.
  • Led brilliantly by Trustee Henry Grafton Grattan and Meath parent Olly Bates, our London Marathon runners went the extra mile for I CAN in April with an amazing fundraising feat – and sore feet in equal measure!
  • Our special 125 champions set out to do extraordinary things in our Anniversary year to raise money for I CAN:  swimming the Henley Regatta course, completing a triathlon, cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats, running the Royal Parks half marathon, holding a special concert and a festival, the list continues! For my part, I walked across Morecambe Bay, living to tell the tale by avoiding the infamous ‘sucking sands’!
  • We’ve been extending the I CAN family by gradually accrediting I CAN Licensees who can train local early years settings and schools to use our programmes. We now have 500 of them! Each and every one is a valuable addition, because they are making sure we help more children and families.
  • I CAN’s Meath School celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and marked this with a summer tea party, a ‘pyjama marathon’ and by opening a Woodland Park in the grounds, fulfilling the cherished vision of Principal Janet Dunn OBE.
  • In September, I CAN was chosen to be a beneficiary of the 9th Annual BGC Partners Charity Day.  Musician and DJ Cerys Matthews and Hollywood superstar David Hasselhoff joined Meath pupils on the day. Cerys and David represented I CAN with great enthusiasm as BGC’s traders raised $12m worldwide for charities in memory of their colleagues who died on 9/11.
  • In October we launched Moving On!, resources for Year 6 pupils, their teachers and parents to help their transition from primary to secondary school by effectively supporting their communication skills.  Research has shown that a successful transition can lead to higher attainment in secondary school with improved progress, particularly in Maths and Science, reinforcing the importance of well supported transitions.
  • Dawn House School held its annual Pupil Participation Conference in October, and in November students contributed their views to the Council for Disabled Children consultation on the SEN changes, giving the thumbs up to the idea of integrated Education, Health and Care Plans and emphasising how much they wanted their own say in them.
  • The Meath School choir sang at the Marketing Group of Great Britain’s splendid Christmas dinner at Claridge’s, conducted by Gareth Malone OBE, no less!  A percentage of ticket sales was kindly donated to I CAN. We all sang along to ‘Jingle Bells’ – I masqueraded as a superannuated member of the choir, unable to resist joining in having sung in choirs since the age of six.
  • Our successful Department of Education sponsored Early Language Development Programme (ELDP) has reached nearly 11,000 family facing practitioners to date.
  • Throughout the year we have relied on our partnerships: with Openreach, Action for Children, Impetus, Achievement for All, Unum, Savills, the London Chamber Orchestra, Catch 22, Mencap, Nacro, PACEY…the list stretches on. We absolutely couldn’t do our work without you – each and every one of I CAN’s partners helps us reach more children and families.

Our 125th Anniversary at Speakers House reception in November was a real highlight. It was wonderful to welcome so many of our friends and supporters to the splendid Pugin-esque State Rooms, and to have Michael Buerk our distinguished Ambassador, as Master of Ceremonies. In my speech I announced our move to make Speech, Language and Communication a public health issue: ‘as protective to child development as breastfeeding if promoted; as undermining as childhood obesity if unaddressed’.

As the year closes I CAN has joined forces with the rest of the children’s communication sector through The Communication Trust to influence the SEN changes going through Parliament.  The SEN clauses of the soon-to-be-enacted Children and Families Bill will fundamentally change the landscape for children with speech and language needs and their families.

I am proud of how constructive the Trust response to the consultation on the draft Code of Practice is:  as a sector, we suggest solutions for all of the major concerns we raise in our 63 (count them!) page response.  Accountability remains a central problem – we want it strengthened for the families and children that we serve. Read the two page summary.

At I CAN we are looking forward into the new year. We have the final 125th Anniversary event in January, a Royal Gala Concert and Reception in St James’ Palace, kindly hosted by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall. Registrations are underway for February’s Chatterbox Challenge 2014 and we will find out if – as one of three charity finalists – we are selected by Morrisons staff to be the next Morrisons Charity Partner.

Cross your fingers for us, and watch this space in 2014.