28 June 2022

Over 35 organisations support Schools Bill amendments on spoken language and communication

Last night (27 June 2022), members of the House of Lords debated the importance of children’s spoken language, in support of amendments to the Schools Bill tabled by Lord Watson of Invergowrie. 

Ahead of the debate, Voice 21, I CAN and the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists brought together over 35 organisations to collectively call for a much greater focus on spoken language and communication in schools.

During the debate, Lord Watson called for a ‘step-change’ in our education system and for “spoken language to be given equal prominence to reading and writing”. He said that all children should be able to “develop their oracy at school as a key part of the curriculum. For some children, this will be their only chance to develop their confidence and competence in spoken language.”

He cited recent calls from the House of Lords Youth Unemployment Committee and the Times Education Commission which have recognised that communication skills are among the workforce skills gaps most identified by employers. The Times Education Commission’s final report stated that “Pupils need to learn to converse, to debate, to present, to persuade, to justify and to challenge. These tools are highly valued by employers, but they are not systematically taught in school.”

Responding for the Government, Baroness Barran said that in the schools she visits “oracy is often mentioned as an absolutely key skill and tool in a child’s development and the way in which they approach and understand the world.” She stated that “the Government has published non-statutory guidance aimed at improving the teaching of the foundations of reading in primary schools, including guidance on developing spoken language…..and Ofsted recently published its English research review, which contains guidance on the importance of high-quality spoken language.”

However, Baroness Brinton argued that “the schools White Paper—Opportunity for All, which was published in March—is silent on how to reduce the ever-widening language gap for disadvantaged or disabled schoolchildren” and Lord Storey stated that “our national curriculum and SATs do not give teachers the time and space they should have to develop the spoken word.”

At the same time, a number of peers highlighted the need for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs to be supported so they are able to communicate in the way that suits them best. Baroness Brinton spoke very powerfully about her family’s experience of accessing speech and language therapy and the need to address the workforce challenges facing the speech and language therapy profession.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, Voice 21 and I CAN are calling for:

  • The priority of spoken language to be raised in schools

  • Teachers to be trained and supported to develop their students’ spoken language

  • Children’s spoken language to be a key pillar of education recovery after Covid

  • Children with speech, language and communication needs to be adequately supported.

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Notes to editors:

In the context of the Bill, by spoken language we mean:

  • supporting all children to develop their speaking skills and learn effectively using classroom talk; and

  • supporting children and young people with speech, language and communication needs - this includes those who speak using Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) and sign languages, such as British Sign Language.

Who is supporting the amendments?

The importance of ensuring that pupils’ spoken language and communication skills are developed, and that those children and young people with speech, language and communication needs are supported to speak and communicate in a way that suits them best, is demonstrated by the broad range of organisations who supported Lord Watson’s amendments. They include professional associations, membership organisations, coalitions and charities in a number of fields where oracy and speech, language and communication matter. The supporting organisations include:

ACE Centre

Action Cerebral Palsy

Action for Stammering Children

ADHD Foundation

Afasic

ASLTIP - Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice

Association of Youth Offending Team (YOT) Managers

Better Communication CIC

Big Change

ChatterPack

CICS Group – Cochlear Implanted Children’s Support Group

Communication Matters

Council for Disabled Children

Dyspraxia Foundation

Elklan

English Speaking Board

English-Speaking Union

I CAN - the children’s communication charity

Makaton

NAPLIC 

National Literacy Trust

NCFE

NDNA – National Day Nurseries Association

Oracy Cambridge

Pace

SAPHNA – School and Public Health Nurses Association

Signalong

SMIRA

Speaking Citizens

Special Education Consortium

Speech Bubbles

Stamma

Symbol

The Children’s Trust

The National Organisation for FASD

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

Voice 21

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