Learning from you, learning from me!

Mary Hartshorne, I CAN’s Head of Evidence, explores the importance of joint working so that everyone working with children and young people knows about speech, language and communication needs (SLCN).

Picture a large glass jar filled with water, and a spot of coloured dye being dropped into it. Watch the colour spread throughout the water, gradually colouring all of the liquid.

Hang on in there, there is a point!

Last week we heard the first of our oral evidence sessions for the Bercow: Ten Years On review. The focus was on the impact of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and we heard evidence from teams working in Youth Justice, in CAMHS services, in a virtual school – and from a multi-professional team in North Yorkshire supporting vulnerable young people in or at the edge of the care system. A key theme was the central importance of speech, language and communication. The analogy I describe above was used to illustrate knowledge about these young people’s (often unidentified) SLCN, and how it starts with someone trained to understand their difficulties – often a speech and language therapist. Like the coloured dye, their knowledge gradually pervades the whole team. Through working closely together, there is a growing realisation about the importance of good communication skills in this group of young people.

The same is so for other teams.  Nearly a decade ago, the Communication Trust produced a report looking at SLCN and the children’s workforce. It concluded that everyone, over 2.5 million people, working with children had a critical role to play in the speech, language and communication development and needs of children and young people. Early Years practitioners, midday meal supervisors, social workers, prison officers, school nurses, counsellors….. there’s no role that doesn’t need to know about speech, language and communication in children and young people.

Since then, there have been many central and local initiatives aimed at ensuring that training and development was available: the Speech, Language and Communication Framework (SLCF): outlining the competences needed for the whole workforce -recently re-launched, the Inclusion Development Programme: online training for school staff, the Every Child Talker Programme and then the Early Language Development Programme for staff working in the early years to name but a few.

So it was heartening in the recent Communication Trust workforce survey to find that the importance of speech, language and communication skills for children and young people was recognised almost unanimously (99%) by respondents. Less encouraging were the numbers who had not accessed training, or who did not feel confident in supporting spoken language or SLCN. This was particularly so for those working with older young people, or with those out of school.  

In our evidence session, the importance of joint working came through as a crucial factor in effective practice. That’s therapists working closely with other professionals so that learning is reciprocal: colleagues understanding more about speech, language and communication  but also therapists learning more about literacy, emotional skills, behaviour management, mental health. Not only is language central to all of these different aspects, but children very often present with a number of different conditions.

This shared learning has long been recognised, but with joint working core to the changes to SEN code of practice, it has never been more important.

I’ll leave you with the water jar analogy – but this time picture two different colours spreading and mixing in the jar, sharing skills, shared learning.

There’s still time to complete the practitioner survey for Bercow: Ten Years On, as well as our parent and carer survey. This month we will be consulting with children and young people, commissioners and employers. Please get involved, we are keen that our recommendations will be based on the reality of services of children, young people and their families.

We will be posting transcripts of the oral evidence session on the Bercow: Ten Years website in due course. Sign up to the newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it.