Think Pieces

Our Public Affairs Manager on the Education Recovery in Schools report from the Public Accounts Committee

June 7, 2023

We welcome the publication of the Public Account Committee’s report on Education Recovery in Schools. We are glad to see the report recognise that we are still very much living with the effects of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns on children and young people’s education and development. We know at Speech and Language UK that there is a marked increase in the number of children and young people struggling with talking and understanding words, going from an estimated 1.5 million in 2021 to 1.7 million in 2022.  Given that talking and understanding words underpins all other forms of learning, if the government hopes to tackle “learning loss” and meet its attainment targets in literacy and numeracy, it must recognise the damage that COVID did to children’s speech and language skills. 

We know that the pandemic impacted children, but that most do not have lifelong conditions affecting language development, they just didn’t have the usual experience in their early years due to lockdown. This is particularly true in areas of disadvantage, and we are glad to see the report recognise the very differing levels of recovery depending on level of advantage. There are things we can do for these children that are effective and far cheaper than letting long term needs develop. If such interventions are not put in place we know the problems compound, making the child’s life and education far more difficult, with a cascading effect on their attainment in literacy and numeracy. 

Before the pandemic, the provision for children struggling with talking and understanding words was inadequate. The pandemic has served to highlight these inadequacies and make them worse. If the government is serious about COVID recovery and even making things better than before the pandemic, we have a few suggestions. 

We believe the Government needs to introduce:  

  • A new free screening tool for class teachers that could be used at the start of key stages 1 and 2. This tool would measure and track where children are with talking and understanding words and identify who needs extra help. 
  • Better guidance for schools on the range of tools they can use to intervene to help children. Currently the Government only recommends one programme (the Nuffield Early Language Intervention). This is inflexible given the range of challenges schools face in delivering programmes. We can extend the range of options through supplying the evidence on our What Works database which was initially funded by the DfE.   
  • Training in speech and language development and how to adapt teaching for children with long-term speech and language challenges in Initial Teacher Training, the Early Career Framework and training for SENCos.  
  • More emphasis on talking and understanding words into the Ofsted inspection framework to incentivise schools to concentrate on this area and boost literacy and numeracy results.   

Do we want the legacy of COVID to be a generation of children that struggle to talk and understand words? The government should prioritise their education recovery spending on existing, cost effective, proven methods that would not only help reverse the “learning loss”, but also improve outcomes for children to beyond pre-pandemic levels. 

George Carr, Speech and Language UK Public Affairs Manager