It’s that time of year again… the Annual Naplic Conference! You can guarantee it won’t be a conference that disappoints and this year was no exception. The conference committee managed the perfect matrimony between evidence-based research, experiences of practitioners and importantly the voices of young people with speech language and communication needs (SLCN).
This year’s conference marked an important anniversary … 10 years on since the publication of The Bercow Report: A Review of Services for Children and Young People (0-19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN). Our reflection on the decade was led by none other than the Communication Champion herself, Jean Gross, CBE. Jean’s review illustrated the impact of funding problems, highlighting a continued lack of understanding of SLCN in key sectors of the children’s workforce, poor identification of children, inequitable support and provision which is still post code dependent and insufficient resourcing which impacts both the education of young people and employability. However amongst the doom and gloom, there were those shining a light like Peterborough and Cambridge where joint commissioners made a business case to secure Local Authority Funding and prevent NHS funding reduction. Attention was also turned to ways forward in improving services for young people with SLCN. Jean urged delgates to ‘piggy-back’ on government policy and priorities for example, using the government mental health agenda, social mobility agenda, grasping opportunities to train local commissioners, and capitalise on government initiatives like the DfE’s review of Alternative Provision as well as the planned national network of 35 school-led English Hubs … to name a few; all opportunities to champion the needs of children and young people with SLCN.
In the name of improving outcomes for young people, ICAN children’s charity in partnership with the Royal College of Speech Language Therapy, launched a new website ‘Bercow: Ten Years On which includes a wealth of evidence, resources and tools to equip parents, professionals, educators and commissioners all to play their part in bringing about the changes needed to services. Ten years on, it’s not difficult to see how our professional dialogue has changed and this was reflected in the conference … in a word, it’s ‘evidence.’ Thomas Martell the Programme Manager of the Education Endowment Foundation reviewed the evidence base for improving communication, language and literacy. For me, his presentation was a reminder of the danger of complacency; the old ‘that’s the way we have always done it’ doesn’t mean it’s effective practice. There were mixed results for the oral language interventions he reviewed but overall students who participate make on average 4-5 months additional progress over a year.
Testimony to using an evidence-based approach was showcased in the presentation of Megan Dixon, Director of Literacy and Aspirer Research School, Aspire Educational Trust. One of Megan’s schools, The Ash Grove Academy, was one of the newly appointed Education Endowment Foundation schools; a research school set up to support other schools to make better use of evidence to inform their teaching and learning. By engaging with the evidence base, Megan shared the remarkable journey of the Ash Grove Academy from failing and awaiting closure to being awarded outstanding in all areas by Ofsted in 2013 and onward. In my view a highlight of the conference was the focus on provision for SLCN in Further Education and Employment. We heard moving accounts from a parent talking about her battle to secure her son support and we heard from young people with SLCN who completed secondary school reflect on their experiences and frustrations and talk openly and honestly about the ongoing challenges they face both in the workplace and in higher and further education. It was a stark reminder of the work still to do! In keeping with employability, ICAN’s Maxine Burns presented the Talk about Talk Secondary, a targeted programme for 14 to 18 year olds with SLCN to prepare them for the communication skills needed in the workplace. The day was a full one and it was clear there is a long way to go in ensuring the needs of young people with SLCN are met and their voices heard but a big thank you NAPLIC for arming us with the knowledge to move forward.