Mary Hartshorne I CAN Head Of Evidence

Ten years on – a different world, a different picture?

Mary Harsthorne, I CAN’s Head of Evidence explains the key findings of the newly released Bercow: Ten Years On report.

By the time you are reading this, we will have published Bercow: Ten Years On– an independent review of the provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). We will have crossed all the ‘t’s, dotted all the ‘i’s, made sure all the evidence charts and quotes are accurate. I wasn’t involved ten years ago, and wonder if the process was any different then. I suspect not!

For the last 15 months, we have heard from over 2,500 people. So many of you have wanted to share your experiences of support for children and young people with SLCN; we have a very rich picture of the ‘on-the-ground’ experience of children, young people and their families. What a different world from ten years ago! As one person told us ‘it couldn’t be more different’.

On page five of the report, we’ve inserted a diagram highlighting some of the main changes:

  • A complete overhaul of the special educational needs system
  • Comprehensive reorganisation of the National Health Service
  • Major technological change
  • Academisation: educational reform giving schools and trusts increased autonomy
  • Changes in leadership which have altered the place of children’s speech, language and communication in both health and education

What people have been keen to emphasise throughout, is that all of this change is happening in the context of significant financial challenge.

So a different world, certainly, but are the findings so very different to ten years ago? The five key themes emerging from the review are:

  1. Communication is crucial to children’s life chances. Yet awareness of its importance among the public and decision makers is not sufficient.
  2. Strategic system-wide approaches to supporting SLCN are rare; very often SLCN does not feature in national or local policies.
  3. Services that are inaccessible and inequitable. Too often support for children’s SLCN is planned and funded based on the available resources, rather than what is needed, leading to an unacceptable level of variation across the country.
  4. Support that makes a difference is based on the evidence of what works. However, service design and cuts frequently do not take account of the evidence we have.
  5. Too many children with SLCN are being missed, and are not getting the vital support they need.

So, similar themes, but what these look like given the changed context is very different.

Let me explain.

We have found many more local initiatives that recognise the importance of communication as a fundamental life skill: for example in Stoke, Nottinghamshire, Sheffield, Bradford, Warwickshire, Hackney – but still this isn’t driven from the top. Given their importance, speech, language and communication rarely figures in national and local policy and plans. On the ground, for example, speaking and listening is no longer a separate aspect of the curriculum with defined stages of development. As a result, 53% felt that the way children learn in school does not support the development of children’s speech, language and communication.

There are many other similar examples: the situation has shifted, not always for the better. But wherever there is a startling statistic or fact, there is always an example of good, effective practice. Speaking and listening may not be a defined curriculum strand, but we heard from schools who had made spoken language a priority, with support running through the school for all children as well as those with SLCN.

When we started this review, people challenged us by asking ‘what’s going to be different this time around?’ What we feel is different is that we have clear ways that everyone can get involved. Our recommendations are aimed at strategic decision-makers, but visit and you will find ways that early years practitioners, teachers, parents and carers, children and young people themselves can get involved. This section of the website will continue to grow; we will launch most of our practical action-taking resources at the Naplic conference on 28th April. Watch out, get involved, take action!