SEND: Nearly half of speech therapists lack time and resources to support pupils with language disorders

Children without the most severe needs missing out, according to Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists research

Helen Ward

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Many children with language disorders are not getting the support they need, according to Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists research.

A survey of 350 therapists by the Royal College (RCSLT) found that almost half (45 per cent) did not have the time or resources to help children who had trouble with communicating but did not have the education, health and care (EHC) plans that give those with the most severe difficulties a legal entitlement to help.

They were asked about their experiences following the 2014 reforms of the SEND system which replaced the old statements of need with EHC plans.

“We no longer see children who do not have an EHC plan,” one therapist said in the survey.

Another added: “Children without EHC plans are worse off…following the reforms.”

The RCSLT says that around 8 per cent of children experience language disorders – but almost nine out of 10 (86 per cent) of these do not have an EHC plan.

And it wants the government to make clear the responsibilities of local education and health bodies towards commissioning services for children without EHC plans.

Kamini Gadhok, CEO of the Royal College, said the findings were “alarming”.

“We already know from the Department for Education that 86 per cent of children and young people who have communication problems as their primary need do not have an EHC plan,” she said.

“Our members have sent a clear message that due to local budget cuts and changes to commissioning priorities these vulnerable children and young people are at risk of not getting the support they need. Research has shown that vocabulary difficulties at a young age are associated with poor literacy, mental health, and employment outcomes in later life. Early speech and language support is vital to children’s success and action must be taken.”

James Bowen, director of the middle leaders' union NAHT Edge, warned that schools are concerned about the pressure on speech and language therapists.

"Special educational needs and disability co-ordinators value enormously the work of speech and language therapists,” said Mr Bowen. “They know that early intervention and specialist support can make a huge difference to pupils with speech, language and communication needs. However, they are finding it harder and harder to access such support, especially for children without EHC plans.

“Short-sighted cuts to such critical services are a false economy. With budgets being pushed beyond breaking point, schools no longer have the resources to step in to meet pupils’ needs when local services are cut.”

The NAHT and the RCSLT will be working together on developing advice and information for schools.

The report comes after the RCSLT and charity I CAN announced they would be launching an inquiry into why almost half of children with communication difficulties are not being identified by schools.

A DfE spokesperson said: “We have made fundamental changes to the way the special education needs and disabilities (SEND) support system works for families, and we are seeing good progress being made. It is encouraging that the majority of speech and language therapists feel they are delivering the reforms effectively.

“But we know there is still work to do, which is why we have invested £1.7 million in supporting children and young people with speech, language and communication needs since 2014, and we are currently procuring a contract focusing on improving the support provided.”

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