Access to speech and language therapy
England’s Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longford, has today published her report We need to talk: Access to speech and language therapy.
We welcome this report that shines a light on the spending on speech and language therapy services (SLT) for children across the country. However, it shows that too many vulnerable young children are missing out on the vital speech and language help they need to get ready for school. We know this to be only too true from our conversations with parents, nurseries and schools around the country.
A postcode lottery
While nearly one in five children are starting their school lives lacking the expected communication skills, the report reveals a ‘postcode lottery’ of spending, with huge variations across different areas. This risks many children waiting months to be seen, or never receiving support at all.
For the first time this report brings together data that shows how much local areas spend on SLT services. This was previously hidden so there has been no publicly available, reliable information about what is being spent. In fact there is no single body to hold to account for that spending.
The report finds that real-terms spending on SLT services has decreased in three out of five areas of the country. It helps identify where children who need support are falling through the gaps. Although some variation in spend is to be expected it shows significant variation between different regions of the country:
- The top 25% of areas spent at least £16.35 per child, while the bottom 25% of areas spent 58p or less per child.
- Local authority spend per child is highest in London at £7.29 and this contrasts significantly with the lowest spend in East Midlands at £0.34.
The Bercow Report and Bercow: 10 years on
In 2008 the Bercow Report was a landmark report commissioned to consider what changes were needed to improve provision for children with speech, language and communication needs in England. That report highlighted a range of problems with the way services were designed, including a lack of joint working between health and education in delivering these services. Again a postcode lottery’ in the level of support was identified in different areas.
Though there is clearly a high level of need it’s worrying that support for these children, including provision of high quality SLT, is often lacking. Professionals still say the children they work with are either having to wait too long to get help, or are not getting help at all. In 2018 the Bercow Ten Years On report found that about a third of children have to wait over a year to get speech and language therapy.
Yet, in today’s report only half of areas reported that health and local authorities were jointly commissioning services for children with these needs, even though all areas are now required to do so by law.
We need a renewed government strategy
We know there is a high level of need for effective speech and language therapy to help children to thrive socially, emotionally and in their education.
‘Teachers alone cannot be expected to provide all the specialised help that these children need, and their work within the classroom must be supported by advice from professionals and speech and language therapy for individual children.’
In order to ensure that all children get the help they need, when they need it, there should be a renewed government strategy on addressing speech, language and communication needs, with the appropriate funding to support it.
We think all children should get the support they need, wherever they live!