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Speech, Language and Communication Needs – and How to Spot Them

September 23, 2019, 17:16 GMT+1
Read in 4 minutes
  • Failing to spot early indications of speech and communication needs can give to rise to serious issues in years to come, says Claire Westwood
Speech, Language and Communication Needs – and How to Spot Them

Imagine not being able to fully express your thoughts, opinions, feelings and needs. What challenges might you face if you struggle to understand what’s being said to you, or to follow instructions?

This can be a daily experience for the more than 1.4 million children in the UK – equating to around 1 in 10 – who have some form of speech, language and communication needs, but by identifying and addressing these appropriately, primary school teachers can make a real difference to their lives.

The impact

Research previously published by Save The Children showed that one in four five-year-olds struggling with language didn’t reach the expected level in English at KS2, compared to one in 25 of children with good language skills. The same research further found that one in five five-year-olds with language difficulties didn’t reach the expected standard in maths, compared to one in 50 children with good language capabilities. If left unaddressed, SLCN can affect a child’s ability to access all areas of the curriculum.

There can also be an increased risk of these children being excluded from school, or coming into contact with the youth justice system further down the line. Approximately 60% of young offenders have communication difficulties. Working as part of a youth offending team, this is something I’ve observed on a near weekly basis.

The right support

SLCN can manifest in a variety of ways, but also appear to present as other conditions. Visible signs of SLCN can include challenging behaviour, withdrawal and/or difficulty in acquiring social skills, making it important for teachers to be aware of the signs and what to do next. More broadly, primary schools have a key role to play in ensuring that effective interventions are put in place early on to support children with speech and language difficulties.

To that end, tools are available which enable primary teachers to carry out timely assessments of children’s speech and language development if they suspect there might be an issue. We in the Children’s Therapies team at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust wanted to do something to help, which led to us partnering with GL Assessment and developing a new speech and language toolkit for primary schools.

WellComm Primary is designed to help schools quickly identify children between the ages of six and 11 who may be struggling with their speech, language and communication skills. The screening process can be completed in less than 20 minutes by school staff, without the need for additional training, with children given a red, amber or green score indicating the presence or otherwise of SLCN.

The toolkit also includes The Big Book of Ideas for teachers, which contains a series of activities, games and strategies designed to develop and strengthen language and communication skills both in the classroom and at home.

Meeting children’s communication needs throughout their school career is vital for ensuring that they’re able to access the curriculum, build social relationships and maintain a high level of general wellbeing. There’s no question that effective screening and monitoring of children’s speech and language skills can make a major difference throughout their primary years and beyond.

Claire Westwood is a senior children’s speech and language therapist at Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and the author of the WellComm Primary Toolkit

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