The Bercow Review has made its recommendations on the steps needed to transform provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs, after 10 months of investigation and analysis

The recently published Bercow Report makes recommendations to the government on how to improve provision for children and young people aged 0-19 with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) and their families. The recommendations are gathered under five key themes, which we summarise below.

1. Improving understanding that communication is crucial
There is insufficient understanding of the centrality of SLCN among policy makers and commissioners nationally and locally, professionals and service providers, and sometimes parents and families themselves.

To improve understanding that communication is crucial, the government should:

  • create a Communication Council to monitor and support implementation of this Review’s recommendations
  • create a Communication Champion (CC) to lead on awareness raising and best practice dissemination elements of the Communication Council’s work
  • commission a National Year of Speech, Language and Communication to be led by the CC.

To increase understanding of SCLN among all families and provide information, advice and support to families:

  • all parents should receive information emphasising the importance of SCLN to all children through the Child Health Promotion Programme
  • once SLCN has been identified, a range of information, advice and support should be  available to families, particularly at key stages and transition points in a child’s life
  • government  to consider the case for funding national, regional and local support services for parents.

To ensure that it is clear to all parents what provision is available in their local area:

  • government should remind LAs of duties to provide information to families, including about publicly funded provision.

2. Ensuring that early identification and intervention are recognised as essential
Early identification means recognising a difficulty as early as possible. If a child does not benefit from early intervention, they are at risk of lower educational attainment, behavioural problems, psychological difficulties, poorer employment prospects or even descent into criminality.

To ensure a robust system for early identification of SLCN:

  • primary care trusts (PCTs) and LAs should work together to undertake surveillance and monitoring of children and young people to identify potential SLCN across the age range, and particularly at key transition points
  • up to the age of five, surveillance and monitoring should be through recently updated Child Health Promotion Programme
  • government should consider a review of the Personal Child Health Record to ensure families and professionals have a clear record of a child’s speech and language development at key ages and stages.

To help ensure that where an SLCN is identified, appropriate provision is available to intervene promptly:

  • SCLN should be prioritised by all Children’s Centres as a primary focus for measuring every child’s progress
  • DCSF should ask Sir Jim Rose to examine how to strengthen the focus on SCLN in the primary curriculum and be ready to act on his advice.

To deliver early identification and intervention for older children and young people with SLCN:

  • DCSF should reinforce its inclusive approach to SEN in the revised secondary curriculum by preparing and disseminating exemplifications of the effective removal of barriers for pupils with SLCN, in line with the principles of the National Curriculum inclusion statement
  • DCSF guidance to LAs and schools on the use of funding, including for personalised learning, should emphasise the importance of meeting the needs of all children and young people with SLCN.

3. Designing a continuum of services around the family
The requirements of children and young people with SLCN and their families will be only be met when appropriate services are designed and delivered in a way that is accessible to them.

To ensure effective joint commissioning of services for children and young people with SLCN:

  • government should produce a joint framework for commissioners, including children’s trusts and schools, on a continuum of universal, targeted and specialist services for children and young people with SLCN aged 0-19
  • the commissioning framework should be developed through a programme of pathfinders, funded and supported by the government, to identify best practice and evidence of effective interventions for different types of SLCN and to show how joint working and commissioning works well in a range of local areas.

To support commissioners further and embed incentives to commission services for children and young people with SLCN:

  • the DoH should create an SCLN annex to Standard 8 of the Children’s National Service Framework: Disabled Children and Young People and those with Complex Health Needs
  • current DCSF review of the Dedicated Schools Grant should take account of how the school funding system supports the delivery of universal, targeted and specialist services for children and young people with special educational needs.

To ensure that strategic commissioning is successfully supported by the workforce:

  • the commissioning framework should include advice on how to assess the range of skills in local children’s workforces; identify the right skills and capacity mix required in the children’s workforce; develop the workforce by identifying and addressing skills or capacity ‘gaps’; develop effective collaborative practice between different services and members of the workforce.

To support the workforce to deliver:

  • professionals from across the children’s and young people’s workforce should undertake pre-qualification training in collaborative and multidisciplinary working, alongside professionals from other backgrounds.

To improve the training and continuous professional development related to SLCN:

  • the Children’s Workforce Development Council should ensure that SLCN are a core requirement or unit at the appropriate level in all qualifications for the children’s workforce as part of the emerging Integrated Qualifications Framework
  • standards for QTS should ensure that students develop a better understanding of SLCN and of how to address those needs
  • DCSF should include SCLN, as a core requirement and as an elective module, in the new Masters in Teaching and Learning
  • government should ensure that good quality training, such as that provided through the Inclusion Development Programme (IDP), is available to everyone in the children’s workforce, including health and education professionals, to develop their skills in relation to SLCN including training for staff wishing to specialise in working with more severe and complex SLCN
  • government should consider how training is best be provided, including whether it should be an entitlement.

To provide more information to local areas on the workforce resources required to meet needs:

  • government should undertake a modelling exercise to help Strategic Health Authorities and PCTs, in partnership with LAs, to estimate the workforce required to deliver appropriate services for SLCN.

To improve understanding of what support and interventions work for children and young people with SLCN:

  • government should consider a programme of research to enhance the evidence base and inform delivery of better outcomes.

To address the needs of children and young people who use Assistive and Augmentative Communication aids (AAC):

  • government should develop a ‘hub and spoke’ model of regional provision, coordinated by a national organisation
  • CC should evaluate the effectiveness of local areas AAC provision, and report findings to the Communication Council.

To strengthen support in one of the most acute examples of on-going SLCN:

  • government’s forthcoming Youth Crime Action Plan and the follow-up work on young offenders’ health should consider how best to address the SLCN of young people in the criminal justice system.

To ensure that families and others get the opportunity to have their voices heard where closure of language units is being proposed,

  • DCSF should remind LAs of their statutory responsibilities and parents of their rights regarding consultation procedures.

4. To promote more and better joint working
In planning, commissioning and delivering universal, targeted and specialist provision, it is critical that all services work together in support of children and young people with SLCN. Operating in separate silos produces misunderstandings, causes divisions and can be bewildering or infuriating to parents.

To increase the effectiveness of children’s trust arrangements to facilitate joint working:

  • each children’s trust should appoint an appropriate senior member of its governing board to lead on SCLN in the local area.

To avoid confusion in joint commissioning of provision:

  • the commissioning framework should make clear who the responsible commissioner is in complex cases:
  • government should consider amending regulations and associated guidance

To help ensure that children’s trusts fulfil their responsibilities for SLCN:

  • new Comprehensive Area Assessment should take account of their effectiveness in facilitating joint working and effective commissioning to deliver improved outcomes for SLCN
  • government should consider whether sufficient numbers of children’s trusts are functioning effectively in terms of improving outcomes for children and young people with SLC.

The DCSF has commissioned Ofsted to carry out a detailed review of progress on SEN. This should take full account of:

  • need for the joint provision of services for SLCN
  • effectiveness of joint working arrangements between schools, LAs and health services in addressing SLCN
  • contribution of community child health services commissioned by the PCT
  • effectiveness of LAs’ support to schools on improving outcomes for SLCN
  • effectiveness of School Action, School Action Plus and statements of SEN in improving outcomes for SLCN
  • how Ofsted itself might strengthen its contribution to raising standards for children and young people with SLCN, including training for Ofsted Inspectors in this area.

5. Ensuring greater consistency and equity for families
The current system for providing support is routinely described by families as a ‘postcode lottery’, particularly in the context of their access to speech and language therapy (SLT).

To support the strengthening of the local leadership role:

  • DCSF should work closely with its central and local government partners to promote the framework to local leaders, setting out in the 2009 Departmental Annual Report the steps taken and the progress made
  • DoH should support the development of appropriately skilled and experienced clinical leaders to support delivery of evidence- based practice for SLCN.

To improve performance monitoring at a national level government should consider:

  • retaining national early years targets beyond 2011
  • introducing a national indicator specifically for SLCN to underpin a relevant Public Service Agreement from 2011
  • joint framework on commissioning to emphasise the need for local agencies to monitor performance and publish their findings in forms accessible to children, young people, parents and professionals
  • making as much data as possible available about educational attainment of children and young people with SLCN to allow it to be accountable for progress and to encourage improvement in provision
  • progress on implementing the recommendations of this review is assessed through an independent progress check conducted in 18 months.

The Bercow Report: A Review of Services for Children and Young People (0-19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs

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