Special needs experts are angry over drastic cuts to funding to a charity that provides expert help with children's speech and language difficulties.
The Communication Trust, which provides teachers with resources, training and information on speech, language and communication needs, has been told that its annual grant from the Department for Education will be stopped in March.
The trust, which is a coalition of more than 50 not-for-profit organisations, is well-known in schools for organising No Pens Day – which is designed to promote speaking and listening skills and which an estimated 7,000 schools took part in last year. It also offers support to children with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), the subject of this Friday's (2 February) cover feature in Tes. It is estimated that two children in every classroom suffer with DLD, but most teachers are unaware of the condition (the feature deals with diagnosis and support and intervention options).
Octavia Holland, director of the trust, said that the grant, of about £650,000, represented about 95 per cent of the organisation’s funding and very little of its service would remain without it.
“The loss of that funding will mean a dramatic and significant change to the support available to the children and young people’s workforce,” said Ms Holland.
“We provide a whole programme of support. At the moment we have 52,000 registered users – a lot take online courses or qualifications. We also deal with 40 telephone queries a day and run workshops and training sessions.
“We also coordinate support provided from the 56 organisations we work with, to make sure that a teacher or nursery practitioner contacting us for support knows where they can get materials and training programmes.”
On average, there are an estimated two children in every class with speech and language difficulties.
And the news that the trust could lose its government funding has prompted dismay.
This is devastating for all of our work to educate the children's workforce about speech, language and communication needs, @Freeman_George , @Comm_nTrust has been at the centre of BSA's education work for nearly a decade.— Stammer@BSA (@stammer) January 30, 2018
@educationgovuk Why are you planning to cease funding @Comm_nTrust? Does this mean that children's speech, language & communication and children with #SLCN are no longer important to you? This national organisation provides a vital service to professionals like me & must stay.— Fiona Collins (@SpeechTeach63) January 29, 2018
A petition has been set up today to ask Damian Hinds, the education secretary, to reverse the decision.
Incredible outpouring of concern about discontinuation of the specialist SLCN contract. Thank you so much. The impact on children and young people needs to be made clear.— Communication Trust (@Comm_nTrust) January 28, 2018
Ms Holland added: “We are desperate to be able to continue to support the workforce. The DfE has told us that there could be other funding available for SLCN (speech, language and communication needs) later next year, but we are not sure how much or when.
“We’re now looking at different options of how we could keep a skeleton service going. We are still hopeful we might get a small amount of funding to keep some things going but there is no way it would be anything like we provide at the moment.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We want every child to succeed, regardless of their circumstances. That’s why we have fundamentally reformed the special educational needs system to put families at its heart.
“We would like to thank The Communications Trust for the excellent work it has done in supporting children and young people with speech, language, communication needs.
“Supporting these children and the people that work with them remains a key priority for the department, and we are constantly reviewing the best way to deliver these services.”