Communication is Crucial!
This was the title of the first chapter in the original Bercow report, written in 2008 by John Bercow. It is also the first chapter in the follow up report Bercow: Ten Years On: an independent review of provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) – launched on March 20th this year.
So what has changed? It was true in 2008, and continues to be true now, ten years later. Do we still need to point this out?
Well, firstly, we now have even more evidence about just how crucial communication skills are to learning, to social and emotional skills, and to life chances. A host of studies show this:
- Language at age two predicts reading, maths and writing when children start school.
- Vocabulary at age five is the most important factor affecting literacy at age 11
- Good language, particularly vocabulary at 13, is a strong predictor of better outcomes at GCSE
- Good communication skills are rated as the most important employability skills needed for young people entering their first job
Secondly, yes – more people are aware of this. We know this through the growing number of local campaigns: ‘Get Hackney Talking’, ‘Stoke Speaks Out’, ‘Time to Talk in Warwickshire’ and many more. We know because there are now over 400 local champions and more than 200 language leaders who are being led by the Communication Trust to make sure speech, language and communication are a local priority. We know also, because people write about it – only last month, Oxford University Press published a report: Why Closing the Word Gap Matters which explored the significant gap between language skills in children in deprived areas and their peers, emphasising the importance of this to their life chances.
However, we still have more people to convince; the people who make decisions about support for children and young people with SLCN. In the Bercow: Ten Years On report, this was the focus of the second chapter. Despite knowing just how crucial communication is, it seldom features in policy at a national or local level. In evidence to the review, only 40% of people responding to a survey felt that commissioners’ understanding of SLCN was good. In a sample of school Ofsted reports, none mentioned how progress in spoken language was tracked. The Bercow Ten Years On report made strategic recommendations, calling for children’s communication to be embedded in the Government’s social mobility action plan, and for it to be a priority in local decision-making.
It is heartening to see this happening already: Public Health England, the Department for Education and the Education Endowment Foundation are all making children’s early language a key factor in their plans. But what is it like for you locally – do your local commissioners, your school leaders, or early years setting manager prioritise children’s speech, language and communication?
As well as making strategic recommendations, the report urges everyone concerned with children and young people’s SLCN to take action. A website accompanying the report www.bercow10yearson.com provides really practical resources to help people do this: top tips, presentations, guidance and information sheets. For example, one factsheet explains how you can calculate just how many children with SLCN there are in your area or school. it then gives you a template presentation into which you can slot this figure, to use to talk to commissioners.
Take time to look at the website. We know how crucial communication is, you know it too – get involved in the campaign to make sure everyone else does too. Take the first step:
- Sign a petition to get a government response to the report.
- Follow the campaign #Bercow10.
- Visit bercow10yearson.com to download guidance to put children’s SLCN on the agenda in your setting.