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Urgent action needed on gaps in specialist workforce for children

Published Date: 03 Nov 2022

Children and young people, including those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), are at increased risk of poorer educational outcomes without urgent action, according to an open letter published today.

 A coalition of over 100 signatories, led by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the National Deaf Children’s Society, Speech and Language UK and Voice 21, has written to the Government to say long-term investment is needed now, to plug gaps in the specialist workforce supporting children in schools.

 The letter highlights a series of inadequacies in the specialist support children and young people can access. While the need for specialists is increasing, insufficient numbers are being trained to meet demand. And many are failing to be retained, with high numbers leaving the public sector altogether.

 This is having a knock-on effect on children, young people and families, with parents reporting that services are at “crisis point”, leading to “catastrophic” impacts on children’s education, mental health and wellbeing, home and social life, employment prospects and life chances.

The coalition, which includes charities, professional bodies and associations, trade unions and parent and carer organisations, is calling on the Government to clearly set out how it’s much anticipated response to the SEND Green Paper – a broad consultation on reforming special educational needs and disability (SEND) services that took place earlier in the year – will address this widening access crisis.

A wide range of professionals, including Teachers of the Deaf, speech and language therapists and educational psychologists, play a vital role in supporting children and young people to reach their full potential. In addition to helping teachers to develop their knowledge and skills, they also help identify needs early, giving children the best possible start and reducing the demand for more expensive support later in life, as well as helping more children to get support in mainstream schools.   

Herminia’s son Marshall is 7 and was born partially deaf.  Herminia said:

“Specialist support has been crucial for Marshall’s development, and I don’t know what we would have done without it. It’s been the difference in helping him to reach his full potential. Because he has to work so much harder to concentrate, if adjustments weren’t made to his environment, I think he would have started to fall behind.

“At pre-school, Marshall socially struggled to make friends and couldn’t get involved in all the different conversations going on. The Teacher of the Deaf helped with this so that the staff could help him socialise with other children, he learnt to have one friend, to then two and more.

“His current school has always been so good and accommodating, and very open and willing, asking me what would be helpful. Staff have been great with making adjustments to the classroom, such as where he sits, attending training and learning how to use the radio aid with him.” 

“I worry what would happen if the specialist support he receives was ever taken away. I know not all children have access to it, so it feels like a real postcode lottery.” 

Mike Hobday, Executive Director of Policy and Campaigns at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:

“Deaf children and young people are once again being overlooked, and at worst, their essential support needs are completely ignored. Without urgent action, many will never receive the specialist support they need in school to achieve their true potential.

“Specialist support, such as through Teachers of the Deaf, is vital in helping deaf children to develop in their early years and have a positive experience throughout their school life, both academically and socially. But with Teachers of the Deaf numbers slashed by 17% in a decade, the situation is getting worse not better.  

“We urge the Government to commit to investing in the specialist workforce as part of its response to the SEND Green Paper. Without it, deaf children and young people will be left to play a perpetual game of catch-up with their classmates, with devastating long-term consequences.”  

Kamini Gadhok MBE, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, said:

“Across the country, speech and language therapists transform children and young people’s lives every day by supporting them with their communication needs. However, there are simply not enough speech and language therapists to meet the demand for their services and this has been made worse by the pandemic. We urge the Government to use its forthcoming response to the SEND Green Paper and address this crisis by investing in and planning for a specialist workforce that supports the communication needs of children and young people to give them the best start in life.”

Jane Harris, Speech and Language UK Chief Executive, said:

“At Speech and Language UK, our research shows that 1.7 million children are struggling with talking and understanding words. Many of these children will need the support of specialists such as speech and language therapists and advisory teachers. Without this help, they are at risk of falling behind at school, developing mental health problems and getting into trouble in the criminal justice system. The new Government needs to take urgent action to train teachers better and train more specialist therapists so that children with short and long-term speech and language challenges can get the help they need.”

The open letter has been signed by 111 organisations, including Guide Dogs, the National Autistic Society, RNIB and Young Minds.