Review launched after ‘more than half’ of primary school pupils with language disorders not identified

Review launched after 'more than half' of primary school pupils with language disorders not identified

A new inquiry has been launched to discover why speech and language disorders are going unidentified in the majority of primary school pupils.

The review follows a Schools Week investigation that uncovered such disorders were being missed by local authorities amid overly-simplistic assessments.

Experts said councils were reluctant to pay for assessments by therapists amid funding pressures in case more expensive needs are identified.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) and I CAN, a charity for children’s communication, will now collect evidence to establish why “more than half of children” with significant language difficulties are not being identified.

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of I CAN (pictured below), told Schools Week the review had been launched to “get to the bottom” of why children’s needs were “being missed.”

“We think that perhaps in some cases schools don’t always understand the nature of language difficulties – it’s a hidden disability often.

“And for children the first few years of primary school may be easier, and then it’s only identified later as school gets harder and the communications issues increase.”

About two pupils in every year 1 class in Surrey – equivalent to 7.6 per cent nationally – were found to have a clinically significant language disorder by researchers at University College London, who published a paper in May last year.

Yet DfE data from the same year reported that nationally only three per cent of children in schools had speech, language and communication needs, which was less than half the proportion found by the researchers.

Reitemeier added that speech and language difficulties could also be identified as “something else, such as the autism spectrum disorder.”

Schools Week has previously reported that a diagnosis of autism can hide specific language, mobility or auditory difficulties unless further assessments are carried out.

Speech and language issues, which range from being able to identify sounds and tone during listening to developing language, is “the foundation of all children’s learning”, said Reitemeier.

The findings of the review into children with language difficulties will update those commissioned by John Bercow, speaker of the House of Commons, and published in 2008.

Bercow: Ten Years On will involve the all-party parliamentary group for speech, language and communication throughout the consultation before “sharing the review as widely as possible”, with concrete details on publication to come.

It’s a hidden disability

Jean Gross, the former government’s communication champion for children who will chair the review, said: “It’s shocking that almost 10 years after John Bercow’s report so many children are not being identified in schools when good language and communication skills are so vital for learning.

“We need to find out why. Is it because schools suspect there might be a problem, but struggle to get advice now that speech and language therapists and advisory teachers are thin on the ground? And what is happening to identify children before they start school?”

Schools Week has also previously reported that the number of pupils with special educational needs – although not necessarily an official statement – reduced by 72,660 between 2015 and 2016, according to the government’s most recent census. The overall figure has dropped from 1.3 million to about 1.22 million.