Bob Reitemeier

Being the voice for the silent generation

On 20 March 2018 – I CAN and The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, launched Bercow: Ten Years OnI CAN CEO, Bob Reitemeier, highlights just why this report is needed now, more than ever. 

I want to focus on how incredibly important this issue is – speech, language and communication. Of all the human life skills, our ability to communicate is the most fundamental life skill. Our language and communication development is a foundation pillar for everything else – how well we read and our achievements in school, how we make friends and fit in socially, our self esteem and mental health, and indeed our life chances – including our future employment.

And yet this issue – of how we help children develop language and communication does not receive the recognition it deserves. Our nation is simply not fully aware of how important it is to provide parents, families, nurseries and schools with the information, knowledge and tools to support children’s language.

All too often, when speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are compared to other pressing matters, all also worthy of our our attention, such as physical and mental disabilities or behavioural disorders or autism or mental health or poverty, they are de-emphasised – it is felt that, well… so the child is struggling to speak or communicate – it could be worse – and hopefully they will catch up.

But they don’t catch up. And the scale of this is enormous. Ten percent of all children have a long-term, persistent communication difficulty – that they will not grow out of on their own.  This is important – they will not grow out of on their own. These 10% of all children, which equates to 1.4 million children in the UK, require our support to learn to live with their communication difficulty.

Without support, the gap between these children and other children grows year on year.  The evidence is clear and compelling.  And it starts very early in life. 

By the age of three, a child in the lowest income group was on average 17.4 months behind a child in the highest income group with their language development. By the age of three – already 17 months behind and it continues. Only 15% of children with language and communication needs achieve the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of primary school. This means that 85% of these children do not. This then continues into secondary school, where only 20% of children with communication needs gain a C grade or above in English and Maths at GCSE.

And when you look at our most vulnerable groups of children and young people – those in the youth justice system, expelled from school, suffering from poor mental health, or in the looked after system – in all of these cases, all of them, the majority of children have a speech, language or communication need.

This must stop. It is imperative that by working together we change this situation – and we all have a role to play. We in the sector, the government, commissioners, philanthropists, trusts and foundations, academics and the research world. It is time to bring the plight of these children and their families to the forefront and meet their needs.

That is why we produced the Bercow: Ten Year On report – so that we have a platform for change to drive us forward to meet the needs of these children. 

Going forward, I CAN will continue working with the RCSLT, producing annual reports to assess the progress made and changes made in line with our recommendations and of course, I CAN will continue to support the needs children and young people with SLCN. You can find the report on