What are the challenges in working with and supporting pupils with SLCN?

speech and languages therapy in schools

There are shockingly large numbers of children in the UK who struggle to develop their speech, language and communication skills. The impact of speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) can be wide-ranging and long term – affecting other areas such as learning, attainment, behaviour, self-esteem and long-term prospects. If you’re interested in the evidence around this, take a look at the I CAN Talk paper, “The Cost to the Nation of Children’s Poor Communication”.

Speech, language and communication needs encompass a wide range of difficulties affecting one or more areas of communication. These needs can occur on their own or alongside other developmental needs, such as general learning difficulties, ADHD or autism spectrum disorders.

In the UK, around 1 million children and young people suffer from these needs – that’s 2 – 3 children in every classroom.

Many needs go unidentified – it’s important that SLCN is identified in education and especially in childhood. For most children, the difficulties they experience can be naturally resolved through experiencing an environment that is rich in communication.

For others, however, they may require additional support or long-term speech and language therapy. Hence, it is important for adults working with children to recognise what support children may require as early as possible.

The challenges faced in supporting children with SLCN is a mainstream problem, with SLCN now being one of the most common areas of need and support for children in the education setting. Although there is adequate support available for pupils, early recognition is key to supporting pupils with SLCN effectively.

The first challenge is the amount of support required, with SLCN now being the most common primary area of need for children on SEN support. We know that 7% of children will have Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), a long term and persistent difficulty affecting language. We also know that 3% of children will have a language disorder, in association with another condition that results in difficulties with language and communication skills, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder.

In areas of social disadvantage, up to 50% of children are starting school with poor language skills that hinder their next steps in learning. These significant  gaps in language skills have been found to be much larger than gaps in other cognitive skills, putting these children at a disadvantage from the start.

Without the right support in place, they cannot catch up with their peers, resulting in significant attainment gaps.

The second challenge lies with identifying these children. Language difficulties are complex, with the nature of difficulties often changing over time. They can be described as a ‘hidden need’ as it’s not always possible to observe how well a child understands language. Children can be very good at hiding their language difficulties, masking some symptoms behind more obvious characteristics, such as poor literacy skills, difficulty making friendships, poor progress and challenging behaviour. These can result in costly resources and interventions being put in place to target observed symptoms rather than the underlying cause of children’s difficulties.

In some areas of the UK, around 84% of children begin their school journey with a language Delay – this figure reflects concern for educational professionals who believe that around 50% of children across the UK start school without the language skills that are considered an important element to start their education effectively.

Evidence shows that SLCN is very significant and carries on to affect different aspects for a child or a young person including educational attention, behavioural/emotional development and social relationships, with further impact on longer term life and career opportunities.

Without the right support or skills to develop the levels of language, numeracy or literacy, the restricted opportunities for employment will continue.

This brings us to the final issue which is the lack of training and knowledge of SCLN and the skills and understanding of speech, language and communication needs. Individuals within the setting such as SENCO’s, teachers, teaching assistants and practitioners should have accessible training and continual development opportunities as this is essential to fully support the young people and children with SLCN.

SLT’s have a crucial role to play in supporting staff in the educational settings, along with providing a comprehensive provision for children with specific speech and language difficulties. Studies have shown that over a third of teachers had received no preparation for meeting the needs of children with SLCN and 73% of teachers had no SEN training that covered speech, language and communication. This highlights the importance in training teachers and increasing knowledge and understanding of the different types of SLCN and difficulties that children have. Teachers will continue to struggle without the appropriate training to improve and provide the right outcome for these children. 

Luckily, here at ChatterBug we have a range of services, provision and expert support to give your staff and pupils the best possible support to guide them through the milestones in life. If your staff could benefit from SLCN training, why not give us a call or contact our team of experts and see how we can help?

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