Mary Hartshorne

Including Young People in the Conversation

Mary Hartshorne, I CAN’s Head of Evidence, tells how consulting with children and young people with SLCN is helping to shape Bercow: Ten Years On.

Just returning from an afternoon in a secondary academy, I’m pondering on the feedback students with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) have given on the latest survey we have developed to gather evidence for Bercow: Ten Years On. For this survey we’ll be consulting with children and young people about the support they get for their SLCN, and the students today were helping us shape the questions we intend to ask them. I couldn’t have predicted their comments, for example, older students said that asking about their ‘talking’ felt babyish, they preferred the term ‘communicating’. There was also confusion when we asked about the ‘help’ they get for their talking and understanding: some students understood this as people who helped, others only saw it as helpful if they no longer needed support.

Ensuring the views of children and young people contribute to planning at an individual and service level is central to the revised SEND Code of Practice, but there are particular issues in consulting with children and young people with communication difficulties.

  • How can we be sure that we really know what they think and feel when being able to reflect, analyse and make judgements is based on good language skills?
  • What approach is best when children do not always perceive themselves to have problems, or don’t have the words to describe their SLCN?
  • How can we ensure that we hear the voice of children who struggle to put their thoughts into words?

We know that young people with SLCN often have different views to their parents about their difficulties and what helps, but we also know that they are very clear about what is important to them: having friends, being listened to, having fun. They also have a lot to tell us about the support they prefer.

Fortunately we have some good resources and guidance to help find this out, developed by Sue Roulstone and team in Bristol and produced by The Communication Trust. Some of this advice is straightforward: checking children’s understanding, use of additional visual material, dynamic activities rather than spoken questions. It’s also interesting to learn about innovative ways to encourage children to really share their views, such as using a story telling activity which provided a relaxed context for children to reflect on their experiences at school

The comments on the draft surveys that I got today will mean we will make changes to our questions; as per Sue Roulstone’s blog post – it’s important that adults expect that children are individuals, and in that sense they will need to develop different ways of involving them. We will now have different surveys for different ages; this was a really useful exercise and hopefully means we’ll be able to reach more children and young people.

Please think about children and young people with SLCN that you know or work with. Support them to tell us what they think about the support they get for their SLCN. You can now visit the survey page of the Bercow: Ten Years On website, and find a range of ways you can do this.

This will help us to get a picture of the reality of support for children and young people with SLCN, and to make strong recommendations for future action.