Mary Hartshorne I CAN Head Of Evidence

Access for All – what action is being taken?

Head of Evidence at I CAN Mary Hartshorne introduces the theme of this edition of the ICC, ‘Access for All’. She also provides an update on our flagship publication, Bercow: Ten Years On and our plans for it going forward.


On 22nd October, the Government published its response to Bercow: Ten Years On – a review of provision for children and young people with speech and language communication needs (SLCN).

You’ll recall that I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) published this review in March 2018. The review found a fractured system that was failing many children and young people by not identifying their needs early enough, nor putting in place the appropriate support. One of the key themes of the review was just how inaccessible and inequitable services were.

In the review survey, almost three quarters of parents responding reported that it was quite or very difficult to get help for their child. Over half had to wait longer than 6 months to get support for their child and 33% had to wait for more than a year. In a survey aimed at people working with children and young people’s SLCN, only 15% of respondents said speech and language therapy was available as required.

These findings described a ‘postcode lottery’: inequitable and inaccessible. What support children got depended on where they lived and in some cases which school they went to.

Given that two or three children in every classroom have long-term difficulties and the fact that children with many other special educational needs have language difficulties, this is an untenable situation.

So, seven months after the report launched, what has been going on?

Our six month report card shows that progress is being made in some of the recommendations made by the review. The Government response reiterates this.

For some children, the future looks brighter. Children’s early language is high on the agenda, as a key part of the Government’s social mobility action plan. Work being done by the Department for Education and Public Health England promises a robust way of picking up children with language difficulties as early as 2 years old; health visitors will be trained to identify children with SLCN and there will be a clear, evidenced ‘pathway’ of support for children aged 0-5 with SLCN. There is also funding to explore ways of engaging with parents to support early language development in the home.

It’s less clear how things will change for children and young people with SLCN. Again, a Government commitment to training early years practitioners in identifying and supporting SLCN is great. However, in schools, we know that more than half of the 7.6% of children with developmental  language disorder are not identified and therefore aren’t getting the support they need. We know that many of the 10% of children and young people with long-term SLCN do not have education, health and care plans.

We’re encouraged by our conversations with Ofsted, that inspectors in both Local Area SEND inspections and school inspection will get training in SLCN but we still need action. I CAN and RCSLT’s response to the government makes this clear:

“To be fully effective we need to see greater collaboration between the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the Department for Education (DfE) to ensure joint commissioning is meeting the needs of these children. This should include specialist speech, language and communication support to children with long-term communication difficulties.”

So, what can you do?

  • Visit bercow10yearson.com and look at the resources to help you make a case for SLCN support in your area, school or setting
  • We are already thinking ahead to the one-year anniversary of the Bercow: Ten Years On report launch. If you have an impactful story to tell or know of a school or service near you who are getting it right for children and young people, let us know! We are compiling case studies of the best practices and want to represent schools, settings and services across the country. So, get in touch with our Communications Team at media@ican.org.uk

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