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The Better Communication Research Programme report

Cherry Hughes | 01.04.2013

BSA Education Officer Cherry Hughes highlights and comments upon the findings of the report, which was released last December.

The Better Communication Research Programme (BCRP) is the most comprehensive research on children's speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) ever undertaken in England. The BCRP report highlights the needs of children with SLCN and provides a way forward for support. The BSA and its partner voluntary organisations welcomed the report and are working with the Communication Trust to disseminate and implement its findings.

The key findings from the BCRP about children with SLCN (with my comments in brackets) include:

  • The number of children identified with SLCN has risen 72% from 2005 to 2011. (Currently it is not thought that the number of children who stammer has increased proportionately overall, as early intervention is reducing numbers).
  • They do less well in school than peers of similar ability. (It is hard to consistently apply that point to our children, as we would need a very large research project to track their achievements. My own belief, substantiated by the comments of Speech and Language Therapists (SLTs) and parents, is that with support, our children can achieve to their potential).
  • There are problems of identification and support. Only half the teachers observed used specific strategies. They receive three times less teaching assistant (TA) support in lessons, when compared with some other groups of children with special educational needs (SEN). (The BSA education resources offer simple strategies for teachers and TAs to support our children, and I am hearing from more SLTs that schools are using them).
  • Support is needed at all levels in the classroom as well as from specialists. Children often know what helps. (The BSA education resources do encourage children to talk to teachers about what helps them).
  • Many parents reported long waits between identification and the provision of services. (BSA hears about longer waiting times more and more now from parents, as service provision is subject to ‘cuts’. This is despite the vital importance of early intervention, before the age of 5, for children who stammer).
  • Parents are identified in the report as playing a vital role in the early identification of SLCN and must be helped by professionals to become confident in identifying and supporting it. (The BSA online resources for parents do meet this need and many parents have been helped by them).
  • The critical link between early language skills and later school success is stressed. Yet in primary classes observed, there was limited use of approaches to help develop children's language. All teachers need help to work successfully with children on this. (BSA has resources already for primary and secondary staff and is now producing a resource for early years practitioners to enable them to identify children who stammer and support the development of early language skills).
  • Secondary education is a concern for young people with SLCN. Pupils' needs are less frequently identified, and speech and language therapy support for students at secondary schools is rare, being available in only 10% of mainstream schools. (BSA has been monitoring service provision for older children for some time and has many concerns about it).
  • Evidenced interventions should be offered at a universal, targeted and specialist level to meet the needs of children and young people across early years, primary and secondary education. (Again there is no real evidence for particular interventions with our children; I am not sure that we could ever attain that as stammering is so idiosyncratic that professionals working with children have to adopt a ‘what works’ approach for that individual child).
  • A tool for creating a communication-friendly classroom has been devised and recommended. (BSA has always supported this concept in its education work).
  • Health and Education need to work together to deliver needs-led local services.
  • Research is needed to combine the expertise of practitioners, parents, service providers and researchers to fill the evidence gaps. (BSA would particularly welcome any research which also included the needs of children who stammer).

In conclusion, I believe that the BCRP report provides the evidence base for the reform of practice for all children with SLCN, and I think that BSA has already produced training resources which will assist with this process.

The three-year Better Communication Research Programme, funded by the DfE, involved 10 research projects and the analysis of data from around 6,400 children, 560 parents, 600 SLTs and 750 teachers/SEN co-ordinators. Its authors are: Professor Geoff Lindsay (Centre for Educational Development, Appraisal and Research, University of Warwick); Professor Julie Dockrell (Institute of Education, University of London); Professor James Law (Newcastle University) and Professor Sue Roulstone (University of the West England).

From the Spring edition of Speaking Out, p16