Research round up - January 2020

10 January 2020

Research round up - January 2020

The last quarter of 2019 saw the publication of major reports on the SEND reforms, children's mental health, developmental language disorder and the 'word gap'. 

SEND reports

To mark the five-year anniversary of the SEND reforms in England, the autumn of 2019 saw several significant reports reflecting on progress made with the new system. The reports set the context for the Government’s SEND review this year.

Education Select Committee report, (October 2019) – a report of the inquiry concludes that the SEND reforms were the right ones, but that ‘various factors have badly hampered their implementation’, leading to poor experiences for children and their families. Factors include a shortfall in funding, lack of accountability, and the intense focus on transferring EHCPs meaning that children on SEN support have been neglected. Many children with SLCN fall into this category. The report also highlights serious gaps in therapy provision.

Support for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities in England, National Audit Office (September 2019)

This report notes the rise in numbers of pupils with SEND, with increased numbers in special schools. It criticises the DfE for not fully assessing the likely financial consequences of the SEND reforms. The review did not find the current system to be financially sustainable.

Not going to plan? - Education, Health and Social Care plans two years on, Local Government and care Ombudsman (October 2019)

This report describes an exceptional and unprecedented rise in complaints from families of children with SEND, the majority of which were upheld.   

In November 2019, the National Education Union (NEU) carried out a poll of teachers asking them to rate the Government’s support for pupils with SEND. 98% rated it as poor or requires improvement. Funding, staffing and skills were identified as key barriers to effective provision. 

More encouraging, in a blog from the schools, students and teachers network (SSAT), the first inspection reports in the new framework were reviewed. It found SEND to be fully integrated into reports rather than an add-on, and that SEND was always commented on – particularly about students with SEND well-being and their ability to access the curriculum.


Oracy benchmarks report, Voice 21, 

This report provides a framework for teachers developing their oracy practice – approaches where pupils learning through talk. The Teacher Oracy Benchmarks define excellent classroom practice for oracy. The School Oracy Benchmarks focus on the strategic decisions to be made by school leaders. In both sets, there is the need to ensure that oracy education (learning through talk) is accessible for all pupils, including those with SLCN

Voice 21 has introduced a case study and research section to their website, where there are summaries of research as well as action research projects from school. For example, in this practice-based study, a teacher in a secondary school investigates the impact of a whole-class vocabulary intervention on reading ability.

Mental health

Access to child and adolescent mental health services in 2019, Education Policy Institute

This annual report from the Education Policy Institute examines access to specialist services, waiting times for treatment, and provision for the most vulnerable children in England. It found a high degree of regional variation for access to services, unacceptable wait times and particular issues for some vulnerable groups of children and young people, especially those with conduct disorder.

Using Polygenic Profiles to Predict Variation in Language and Psychosocial Outcomes in Early and Middle Childhood Newbury et al (2019)

This study uses cohort data to look at the relationship between social/emotional difficulties and language disorder. The investigation looked at whether genetics might be driving the association. They found that nearly half of the genes associate with language disorder were also associated with mental health difficulties, with implications for early intervention in children with DLD. This blog gives a useful overview.

Relations between toddler expressive language and temper tantrums in a community sample Manning et al (2019)

More than 2,000 parents who had a toddler between the ages of 12 and 38 months were surveyed, with questions about their children’s number of spoken words and their tantrum behaviours. It found that late talkers have nearly double the rate of tantrums compared to their peers. The study identified a relationship between emergent language and mental health risk, with implications for early intervention. An accessible summary can be found here.


Embracing Complexity in Diagnosis

This report recognises the co-occurrence of many neurodevelopmental conditions such as ASHD, Autism, dyslexia – including DLD. It points out that for many children, each condition is identified separately, and calls for a more joined up approach to diagnosis. It draws on case studies from services who are starting to diagnose multiple conditions as part of a single assessment process.

Investigating the effectiveness of idiom intervention for 9–16-year-olds with developmental language disorder Benjamin, Newton and Ebbels (2019)

This study investigated the effectiveness of 1:1 speech and language therapy as well as classroom-based interventions to identification, understanding, explanation and use of idioms in 9 - 16-year-olds with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD). It took place in a specialist school setting. Both 1:1 and whole class intervention were effective for teaching and maintaining idiom skills, particularly their explanation and use – skills useful in classroom and social understanding.

To screen or not to screen – important factors to consider

A blog from Courtenay Norbury identifying the challenges and risks involved in screening for DLD in children.

The effect of linguistic comprehension instruction on generalized language and reading comprehension skills: A systematic review. Rodge, Hagan, Lervag and Lervag (2019)

Language skills are important for developing reading comprehension and in improving academic outcomes, with children with poor language skills at risk of negative outcomes. The paper reviews programmes aimed at developing understanding of language. It found them to have a small impact on generalised language comprehension skill, small effects on vocabulary and grammatical knowledge and moderate effects on narrative and listening comprehension. Only a few studies have reported follow‐up effects on reading comprehension skills.

Early language

Intervention research to improve language-learning opportunities and address the inequities of the word gap Walker and Dale (2020)

An introduction to a special journal issue, this article gives a useful overview of research and interventions aiming to reduce the word gap for children in disadvantaged communities. It also identified methodological issues in conducting research in these communities involving young children and their families.

Narrative dialogic reading with wordless picture books: a cluster randomised intervention study Grolig et al (2020)

This study investigated the impact of dialogic reading with pre-schoolers, and found significant short impacts on inferential and literal narrative comprehension and vocabulary skills.

Beyond the 30-Million-Word Gap: Children’s Conversational Exposure Is Associated With Language-Related Brain Function Romeo et al (2018)

Home audio recordings were carried out for 36 4 - 6-year-old children from diverse socio-economic statuses. These were linked with activity in the language areas of the brain. It found that children's conversational experience (number of conversational turns) impacts verbal ability and neural language processing more than the number of words heard.


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