Mar Hartshorne

Bercow: Ten Years On – High hopes for change

Mary Hartshorne, I CAN’s Head of Evidence summarises the key themes coming out of the review.

Something that has lodged in my memory is what I did as part of some training many moons ago. To get a real sense of what it’s like to have a language disorder, we had to spend a day able only to communicate in two word phrases, named aptly Two Word Tuesday. I can still recall the anxiety, frustration – and embarrassment. Many of us attending the training decided to stop communicating altogether.

It did the trick though, as a way of highlighting how life-critical communication skills are – as well as helping us think about the social and emotional impacts.

Yet for many people this is not a given. In the Bercow: Ten Years On review, we have completed our evidence gathering and our analysis is showing that there is still a lack of awareness of the vital role speech, language and communication play. As well, there is a lack of awareness of the extent and impact of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN), and of the urgency of identifying and supporting difficulties as early as possible.

During our evidence sessions, we have heard from individuals, services and teams where this is well- known, understood and embedded. This is often through using the evidence available – we know much more about the impacts to life chances and economically; or by teams working closely together so that professional conversations lead to a deeper, shared understanding; or through inspirational individuals or teams who have relentlessly flown the flag for SLCN so that local initiatives such as Nottinghamshire’s Language for Life, Stoke Speaks Out, Get Hackney Talking, Warwickshire’s Time to Talk are still growing.

However as well as this, our surveys are providing evidence to show a less rosy picture. There continues to be large numbers of families who struggle to get the support they need for their children and young people, and services whose experience is that SLCN support is not prioritised.

When we launched the Bercow: Ten Years On review last summer, it was welcomed by many, but we were also challenged – ‘what difference will it make?’. There have been some encouraging changes in the right direction since the original Bercow Review in 2008. Our analysis shows, for example, that people report a more confident and skilled workforce than ten years ago, speech and language support in youth offending has developed hugely, where joint commissioning happens it results in better outcomes for children – and all of these are a direct result of the action plan which followed the last review.

As we draft and test the recommendations arising from the analysis, our aspirations for the current review are high! We are excited and optimistic about the difference the current review will make. We sense a strategic interest in children’s language through the recent announcement of English hubs, and funding for piloting home learning environment projects with a focus on early language. We are encouraging by the groundswell of interest – with over 2,500 people responding to our inquiry we already have more respondents than ten years ago.

 We hope to make enough noise through this review to really enhance public awareness of speech, language and communication and SLCN in children and young people. Last time we had a ‘National Year of Communication’. Maybe this time it needs to be ‘Two Word Tuesday’!