28 October 2021

The 2021 Spending Review: good news for those with speech and language difficulties?

Yesterday, the Chancellor delivered the 2021 spending review and Autumn Budget, setting out funding plans across Government for 2022-23 to 2024-25. 

There’s some good news: departments received more money than anticipated and so spending will increase for most departments. Specifically, Schools, Families and Welfare, which are the most important issues in relation to children with difficulties in speaking and understanding and their families, all saw rises. In these areas, there are a series of measures announced yesterday that give more and, in some cases, new money. 

That noted, we’d hoped to see more in the specific area of speaking and understanding. As my colleague Amy Loxley pointed out 1.5 million children, right now, are at risk of not being able to speak or understand language at an age-appropriate level because of Covid. Our research also showed two-thirds of teachers saying that Government hasn’t put enough support in place for children to catch up with speaking and understanding language post-Covid.

Considering the challenges facing children with difficulties with speaking and understanding language, what we were asking for in the spending review was: 

  • An investment in catch-up interventions for children’s speaking and understanding across the age range – not just in reception.
  • A funded programme of training for teachers so they are able to identify, support and track the progress of children who have difficulties speaking and understanding language – this is the business of all teachers, not just a few.
  • Adequate funding for speech and language therapy services so that children who have long-term difficulties can be diagnosed and receive the specialist support they need to achieve their potential.  

While we didn’t see any commitment specifically on these areas, additional money amounting to £1.8 billion over the spending review period was announced for education recovery for Covid. 

We want to work with Government, councils and schools to make sure that funding from this pot goes towards supporting children with difficulties with speaking and understanding language, so that children are not left behind. We will seek to work with them to address our substantial concerns that there is still no overall plan with respect to supporting catch up in speaking and understanding language beyond the early years.

We also welcomed the additional investment in early years, which included £18 million per year to create a network of family hubs to improve access to services for families and £20 million in 2024-25 for parenting support. We’re particularly keen to look at the detail of how these hubs would work in practice and want to work with the Government to make sure they are as impactful as possible. Notably, we need to make sure that through these hubs:

  • The right help is put in place to support babies and young children to meet their developmental milestones in relation to speaking and understanding language,
  • That the right systems are put in place to identify any difficulties with speaking and understanding and 
  • Support is put in place to help with these difficulties.

There was also increased investment in education for those with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities (SEND). The headline figure is for an increase of £2.6 billion over this period for school places for children with SEND and to make schools more accessible (for things like buying ramps). While this is welcome, we remain concerned that the money will not go far enough for those with difficulty speaking and understanding. This is especially relevant, as we know that more children have speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) than any other special need and that challenges for children with additional needs go far beyond the provision of special school places. The Government must ensure it uses the forthcoming SEND review to address the wider issues.

If the Government is serious in its ambitions to Build Back Better and Levelling Up to make sure that outcomes are improved UK-wide, this spending review should have ensured that support was made available to help children, of all ages, with their speaking and understanding, so that they can have the best start possible. There is still much work to do to realise that ambition.

For now we are still left in need of a Covid Recovery Plan that focuses on speaking and understanding language, beyond the early years. Without this, looking at the implications, given the scale of need, this new money may not stretch to reach those who need more targeted help than the majority. So this side of the spending review, our position remains the same.  The Government must ensure more support is forthcoming for children with difficulties in speaking and understanding. 

Tom Hamilton-Shaw
Public Affairs Manager

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