Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, is today (Tuesday) publishing a new report “We need to talk: Access to speech and language therapy“, which shines a light on spending on speech and language therapy services (SLT) for children across the country to help identify where children who need support are falling through the gaps.
Previous research has shown that children with poor vocabulary skills are twice as likely to be unemployed when they grow up, and over 60% of children in Young Offender Institutions have communication difficulties.
Today’s report is the first time data has been brought together to show how much local areas spend on SLT services. This was previously hidden – there is no publicly available, reliable information about what is being spent, and there is no single body to hold to account for that spending.
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 children waiting months to be seen, or never receiving support at all.
The report also finds that over half of areas in England that reported spend (57%) saw a real-terms decrease in spending between 2016/17 and 2018/19. This comes despite the Government’s ambition in its Social Mobility Action Plan to tackle the ‘word gap’ in the early years.
It finds that the total reported spend by councils and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) on SLT services in 2018/19 was around £166m, or £10.12 per child. However, there are substantial variations between different regions of the country:
The report also shows that spending on SLT services is actually falling in many parts of the country:
The report finds that only half of health and local authorities in England are jointly commissioning services, even though they are expected to do so for children with identified Special Educational Needs. This is concerning, as it means that local areas are not joining up all the different information that they hold and are unable to ensure that they are providing services for all children in the area who need them, and that none are falling through the gaps.
The Children’s Commissioner makes a number of recommendations for improving SLT provision so that children who need it can access support quickly, wherever they live:
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, commenting on today’s report, said:
“Communication skills are vital for children starting school and for improving social mobility throughout a child’s education. We should be very concerned that almost one in five children aged five is behind in speech and language development and yet more than half of areas in England have seen a real-terms fall in spending on speech and language therapy in recent years.
“Those who fail to receive help are at greater risk of falling behind in education, or developing behavioural problems. There are far too many children who have ended up in youth custody, who had speech and language problems at school.
“The next Prime Minister must make school readiness a priority if we are to give all children the chance to thrive. A well-resourced strategy for addressing speech, language and communication needs must be part of that.”