Spoken language in the spotlight: Identifying pupils with speech, language and communication needs on No Pens Day

18 September 2019

Spoken language in the spotlight: Identifying pupils with speech, language and communication needs on No Pens Day


No Pens Day Wednesday is a national day of speaking and listening activities in schools taking place on 13th November 2019. The event promotes spoken language and listening skills and their fundamental role in learning and life, but taking part can also help teachers to identify and support children with speech, language and communication needs.

A study of inner London schools found that approximately 90% of talking in class is done by the teacher, with pupils contributing an average of four words each. It is therefore unsurprising that children’s speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are often missed in the classroom.

Unlike literacy and numeracy, oracy, or the ability to communicate effectively using spoken language, is not a central focus of the national curriculum. Yet good speech, language and communication skills are fundamental to learning to read, making friends, and later entering employment. It is too often assumed that speaking and listening are skills that children will simply pick up without being taught.

However, for many children this is not the case. It is estimated that 10% of children in the UK have long-term, persistent language difficulties.

When SLCN is unidentified, symptoms manifest as poor literacy, bad behaviour and difficulty socialising. Where silence is the sign of a well-controlled class, these children may simply ‘get by’ unnoticed.

I CAN and The Communication Trust are calling on schools and settings across the country to put down their pens on 13th November and focus on learning through spoken language. No Pens Day Wednesday promotes the importance of spoken language skills and their impact on educational attainment, literacy, and social and emotional development. Taking part can also draw attention to the pupils who find verbal communication challenging.

When preparing for the event, we encourage staff to refresh their knowledge on the typical development stages of speech and language skills. Understanding these can help you spot the warning signs of a child with SLCN. Whether they are struggling to pronounce particular speech sounds in words, or to use age-appropriate vocabulary and sentence structure, symptoms of SLCN can manifest at any age.

No Pens Day activities can draw attention to potential speech and language difficulties that a child may be experiencing. Some children may be very quiet, use short sentences, or be difficult to understand. They may be slow to respond to spoken information or unable to follow instructions. When interacting with others, they may struggle to listen, take turns or make eye contact.

In 2017, 80% of No Pens Day participants said that taking part raised their awareness of speech, language and communication needs. 19% reported they had identified pupils who were struggling with spoken language that they had not known about. Increasing awareness of children with SLCN is a crucial first step to supporting and developing their speech and language skills. By doing so, schools can help their pupils to fulfil their potential in education and later life.

There is a wealth of tools and resources available to help schools support children with SLCN. To help you monitor a child’s spoken language, I CAN have developed progress checkers for different age groups. Visit The Communications Trust’s What Works to access a database of evidence-based interventions for children with SLCN. If you’re interested in training staff to boost children’s language skills, I CAN offer programmes for early years, primary and secondary pupils.

To take part in No Pens Day and put spoken language skills in the spotlight, you can sign up to our mailing list here.


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