Supporting all pupils to develop their speech, language and communication skills is everybody’s responsibility and can be a part of every lesson

Speech, language and communication needs, or SLCN, is the most common special educational need within state-funded primary schools. But, while the identification of SLCN has increased by about 70 per cent in recent years, many pupils – particularly at secondary school – are still not identified at all.

Too often pupils with SLCN are missed or their needs are misinterpreted as a behaviour difficulty, a problem with learning, or an emotional, social or mental health need.

Supporting children and young people to develop speech, language and communication skills is essential.

It’s a central life skill at the core of business and society yet, in the UK, more than one million young people – that’s two to three in every classroom – have some form of long-term and persistent SLCN that can affect them early, severely and for life.

Too often pupils with SLCN are missed or their needs are misinterpreted

Spoken language impacts on young people’s attainment, behaviour, social skills and emotional development because these skills allow pupils to learn, understand rules and consequences, and to understand their own and other people’s emotions.

Although there is much focus on SLCN at primary school, a significant number of secondary pupils are being misidentified as having some other kind of SEN or no need at all. Teachers often report a lack of resources to support this.

A transition report by the Better Communication Research Programme highlighted that despite 3 per cent of seven year olds in year 2 being identified with SLCN as a primary need, by year 11 this reduced to just 0.6 per cent.

The Communication Trust therefore has recently launched a secondary progression tool to help schools check if pupils are on track with expected levels around speech, language and communication for their age.

Teachers have also expressed a lack of confidence in knowing how to support children and young people with SLCN. With this in mind, how can you ensure that you’re supporting your pupils’ development in the right way?

First, think about it as part of everyday planning. Language and communication are a part of every lesson.

When planning, it can be helpful to ask: am I introducing new vocabulary and what’s the best way to teach it? What strategies can I use in the lesson to develop pupils’ spoken language skills? How can I plan-in time and space that pupils may need to process and understand new information that they’re presented with?

Also, think about your classroom talk. How much is involved? What’s the balance between teacher talk and pupil talk? Is there time and space for pupil-pupil interaction and small group work, as well as adult-pupil interaction?

You also need to think about your own actions. The way you model speech, language and communication skills will make a difference to the children you teach.

So, think about how you are modelling communication to your class. Do you show them how to use the language for different things? Different communication skills are needed when you negotiate, debate, problem solve, form an argument, share an opinion, seek clarification, work together, plan, evaluate…

If your school isn’t already involved, consider taking part in No Pens Day Wednesday for the way it focuses everyone in your school to think solely about the importance of spoken language. Eighty per cent of the schools that took part last year reported that the event successfully raised awareness of SLCN.

Supporting speech, language and communication doesn’t necessarily mean doing something different, it can just mean bringing it to the forefront and considering its importance in every classroom, school and setting.

The Communication Trust is a consortium of more than 50 not-for-profit organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication.

For more information on No Pens Day Wednesday, go to:

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