Speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are dealt with by over one million children in the UK; most of them in mainstream schools. This ebulletin considers how SENCOs can support colleagues in meeting the needs of these children in the classroom

There are many ways to describe children’s speech, language and communication needs, but the most important point to remember is that every child is an individual. Their needs depend on a whole range of factors, including:

  • the specific areas of speech, language and communication the child or young person has difficulty with
  • the severity of these difficulties
  • skills and strengths the child has
  • levels of maturity, confidence and self-esteem.

While a speech impediment or lack of expressive language is usually straightforward to detect, teachers and teaching assistants may need help in appreciating the extent of the impact that SLCN can have on a child’s learning and behaviour. Difficulties may impact their ability to:

  • listen to and understand information and instructions
  • make sense of concepts and ideas
  • learn new words and use them well
  • answer questions and share their ideas with others
  • use language to solve problems ask for help or explanations
  • read, write and spell
  • play, work collaboratively, socialise and interact with others.

The recently published Bercow Review claimed that improving communication skills is the key to raising education standards. It highlighted the fact that large numbers of children and young people are failing to learn basic speech, language and communication skills and this is radically affecting their life-chances. Approximately 1% of five-year-olds (or more than 5,500 children going into school in 2007 in England) had severe and complex speech, language and communication needs. Without the help these children require to develop important communication skills during their school lives, the risks are multiple and can lead, in many cases, to lower educational attainment; behavioural problems; emotional and psychological difficulties; poor employment prospects, challenges to mental health and sometimes a descent into criminality.

The Bercow Review makes several wide-ranging recommendations to address SLCN, including:

  • regular monitoring of children at important stages of their school lives in order to identify potential speech, language and communication problems as early as possible
  • setting up a series of local pathfinder projects around the country which will assess SLCN, decide which services are required and provide them
  • ongoing information for parents about their child’s development and needs throughout their school life. This extends the principle of the ‘red book’ (Personal Child Health Record)
  • the appointment of a ‘communication champion’ to raise the profile of speech, language and communications within schools and oversee the implementation of the pathfinders.

Support for teachers

Although each child with SLCN will have specific needs, there are some generic considerations to be made in the classroom in order to create an inclusive environment:

Using visual support. Many children with SLCN have good visual skills which can be used to support learning and promote confidence. Capitalise on this by using:

  • visual timetables – pictures, symbols or photographs. For younger children, a visual time line can be effective
  • labels for equipment and places for specific activities – pictures, symbols, photographs or written labels
  • visual displays of topics or current activities (but avoid a ‘too-busy’ effect – for some children vast displays on the wall can cause overload).

Consideration of noise levels. If the environment is too noisy, it can be difficult for pupils to listen effectively or focus on tasks in hand: this can be a particular issue in open-plan areas.

Minimising distractions. Children with SLCD have to concentrate very hard to learn and achieve, so help them to focus by minimising distractions in class (screen savers can be very distracting)

Making routines explicit. Often children can benefit from rehearsing these routines several times to become more confident in the environment

Opportunities for familiarisation. Pupils may need extra support to get to know their way around the school, the names of staff or where particular lessons or activities are taking place. This is particularly important where a child will come into contact with many members of staff or the school site is large: a suitably differentiated map or guide may be useful.

Consideration of the amount and style of adult ‘talk’. Be aware of the vocabulary you use in explanations and check the child’s understanding at frequent intervals. Keep instructions clear, sequential and brief (avoid saying, for example, ‘Before you wash your hands, I want you to put away the paints and pin up your pictures to dry; then come and sit down on the carpet so that we can start our literacy session.’ This would be overload for a child with SLCN who may only hear ‘wash your hands’ and act accordingly.

Allow sufficient time for cognitive processing. Giving children time to process and understand information is crucial, as is time for them to formulate their responses.


‘Watch Your Language’
A resource for parents and carers of young people (11-years or older) to share with youth and leisure services. A colourful and humorous pack designed for when a child wants to join in local youth and leisure activities. The pack includes information on what staff should look out for and lots of simple strategies for them to use so that young people with speech, language and communication impairments can be successfully included. Information can be copied easily so you can use it as many times as you want. (Specific information about a child can also be included if appropriate.)
Free to parents and carers, plus £2.00 p&p (Published by Afasic England)

Afasic Youth Info Pack
A new, fun and lively information pack aimed at young people at secondary school or starting work. Over 40 full colour pages filled with advice and including an identity card.

£5.00 + p&p

This e-bulletin issue was first published in February 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.