DfE’s removal of specialist contract puts 1.4 million children and young people at risk

DfE’s removal of specialist contract puts 1.4 million children and young people with speech, language and communication needs at risk, says The Communication Trust 

The DfE has announced that it will be discontinuing the specialist contract for speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) after funding it for the past ten years, leaving one of the most vulnerable groups of children within the UK without support.

According to the trust, SLCN is one of the most common childhood disabilities. Estimates indicate that as many as 10% of all children have SLCN, and for a substantial proportion of this group, their needs will be long-term and persistent.

Speech, language and communication skills are essential to enabling social mobility – an area the Department has identified as being a key priority – in some areas of social disadvantage, more than 50% of children start school with delayed language skills. The repercussions for undetected and untreated SLCN are devastating. Recent research shows that children with SLCN are at higher risk of exclusion from school and that 60-90% of young people in the youth justice system have SLCN.

Strategic Support to the Workforce in Mainstream and Special Schools

The Department’s proposed contract – the Strategic Support to the Workforce in Mainstream and Special Schools – is set to come into force on April 1, 2018, and makes no mention of speech, language and communication whatsoever. This will see a significant cut to any funding that SLCN receives and a detrimental reduction of specialist support, resources and services.

In 2007, The Communication Trust was established in response to a concerning lack of understanding about children’s speech, language and communication within early years, school and further education settings. Over the past decade, The Trust has made an incredible impact, raising the profile of speech, language and communication and providing invaluable support, training and resources to the education sector. However, much of this vital work will be undone should funding for SLCN cease. The Trust’s annual budget is £650,000, which they use to support over 1.4 million children in the UK; this equates to less than 50p per child.

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The Department’s decision to discontinue the specialist SLCN contract, after 10 years of financial support, has seen public outcry. A change.org petition, initiated by NAPLIC, an organisation that represents professionals supporting language and communication development, has amassed over 28,000 signatures in just two weeks.

Octavia Holland, director of The Communication Trust, said “The DfE’s plans to cut funding for speech, language and communication needs are shockingly short-sighted. The demand for expert programmes of support, from those who work directly with children and young people, has increased by over 20% in the last year alone.  A decade’s continuous funding has led to a very highly regarded service which will now have to be disbanded. This is incredibly wasteful and misguided and we’re still in the dark about the rationale for this decision.”

Stephen Parsons, chair of NAPLIC said “The Communication Trust has done a brilliant job of leading and supporting a wide range of practitioners from Early Years to FE Colleges. They provide trusted, accessible information that allows practitioners to improve the quality of their practice and be more efficient. To cut the funding of TCT feels like a huge own goal.”

Sarah Winstanley, speech and language therapist said “Speechless. I can’t believe that the Department for Education are choosing not to renew the SLCN contract which funds The Communication Trust. The Communication Trust provides excellent advice, resources, training and support for all those supporting children and young people with SLCNs. More funding is needed not less!”

The Communication Trust represents a consortium of 56 not-for-profit organisations throughout England, ensuring an efficient and effective dialogue. The loss of this unified voice for the sector undermines the importance of SLCN and will serve only to silence this often missed and misdiagnosed disability.

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