Monday, 9 August 2010

Keeping an eye on recent developments - Anita Kerwin-Nye, Director

So I am a rubbish blogger. Official. Get too easily distracted by the day job and, over the last few months, been trying to figure out what new government policy means for children’s speech, language and communication.

Close to home strong lobbying has helped secure new government commitment to funding for the Northern Stammering Centre and regional expertise in Augmentative and Alternative Communication. While these vital specialist services run by Trust members are not out of the woods yet this is a good indication that the government recognises the need for such provision.

Likewise, selfishly, the government has confirmed the Trust funding for this year and has expressed sympathy and support for the aims and objectives of the National Year (waiting for the Spending Review to see how much makes the cut for 2011/12 funding).

But what about at a wider level? Strong interventions by the Special Educational Needs Consortium and several Trust members meant that the Academies Bill was passed with some commitments to protect resources for children and young people with SEN and a promise to assess the impact of academies on other schools in the area. Good outcomes but surely a little concerning that only the intervention of the voluntary sector ensured that these areas were even considered?

In our Minister, Sarah Teather MP, we have someone who recognises the importance of supporting children with SEN and disabilities and the specific importance of speech, language and communication (she did after all launch Make Chatter Matter for I CAN and put the 4th ‘r’ into the Lib Dem 4Rs review – we will forgive her for the fact that it stood for articulation as the sentiment was right!) She is launching an SEN Review, with a Green Paper in October, and has already met with the Trust on shaping content and structure.

This is promising news but, the launch of the NHS White Paper the week before we met the Minister shows that, when it wants, the Government can move swiftly on radical change. Yet in the field of SEN we need another review? Let us hope that the review is not an excuse for inaction. Government needs to take the learnings from Bercow, Lamb, Salt et al and must implement the promised actions from these, well evidenced, parent endorsed reports. Any new SEN Review must add value rather than detract from what we already know needs to happen to ensure better outcomes for children and young people with SLCN.

On the subject of reviews – there are many. The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Review is welcome and provides an opportunity to both increase focus on early years language and look at mechanisms for early screening and assessment. There is much good in the EYFS and this review provides an opportunity for making it stronger (and simpler!). We are delighted that Dame Clare Tickell, CEO of one of the Trust members, is leading this review and that Jean Gross the Communication Champion is part of the advisory team.

Frank Field MP’s Poverty Review and Graham Allen MP’s Early Intervention Review both need a healthy dose of speech, language and communication expertise and the Trust will be inputting evidence of need and suggested approaches into both.
Separately, but needing clear links to all the work outlined above, there are plans for a Youth Justice Green Paper in the Autumn that has the opportunity to move forward how we meet the needs of the vulnerable young men and women in the youth justice system so many of whom have unmet SLCN or wider SEN.

But all these changes and reviews are small change compared to the big areas of mainstream education and the NHS. Both are being radically overhauled. Both are seeing changes in infrastructure, aims, objectives, funding and philosophy. Nobody really knows yet what this is going to look like. But we know for sure that posts are already being cut – stories from frontline staff suggest radical cuts to SLT and other specialists posts. And many of the changes will, if not explicitly then through their knock on effects, impact on the children that have additional needs. Take, for example, the cuts to the Building Schools for the Future programme – who would have benefitted most from schools with better access and acoustics? Central funding for Higher Level Teaching Assistants cut – who were they working with?

It is not that these changes do not bring opportunities – certainly there are some interesting possibilities for alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) within the Health White Paper and the new public health role of local authorities could play well to a recognition that speech, language and communication issues are a major public health issue.

But we need to be watchful – supportive when needed and challenging when appropriate. The world is moving quickly and we need to make sure that the 1 million plus children with speech, language and communication needs do not fall through the gaps.

So – the largest change in public sector provision in 50 years and a hundred reviews – maybe keeping an eye on that is an excuse for being behind with my blogs!

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