Scale of the issue

The prevalence of speech, language and communication needs

Around 1.4 million children in the UK have long term speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) that they won’t grow out of. That equates to around 10% of children - two or three in every classroom.
Intro Scale Of Issue
This 10% can be divided into three groups:



Language and disadvantage

There are close links between language development and areas of social disadvantage. Many children growing up in these areas have poor language skills; their spoken language is like that of a younger child, however with the right support some can develop and catch up. Social disadvantage does not predict language development but is strongly associated and so is a risk factor for poor language skills.

  • As many as 50% of children in some areas of social disadvantage start school without the language they need for learning. 
  • In areas of social disadvantage children and young people are more than twice as likely to have SLCN (this study found that the likelihood of being identified as having SLCN is 2.3 times greater for children eligible for free school meals and living in areas of deprivation).

However, without support, these language difficulties can persist throughout schooling.

  • Around half of primary school aged children in some areas of social disadvantage have poor language skills.
  • In one secondary school in an area of social disadvantage, 83% of students had poor language.

Children in the care system are at risk of having SLCN.

  • Around 63% of children living in care have language difficulties and for the majority of those the difficulties were severe, pervasive and previously unidentified.
  • Looked after children have poorer language skills on entry to school than those not looked after.

Living in an area of social disadvantage is a risk factor for children’s language

Read this factsheet from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) on some of the links between SLCN and social disadvantage.

Talking About a Generation, a report from The Communication Trust, provides more information on this topic.

For a more in depth read, look at this report from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Speech and Language Difficulties.

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Learn about Developmental Language Disorder

Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) is a diagnosis given to children and young people who have lifelong spoken language difficulties. It is common, affecting approximately 7.6% of all children primary school, which equates to 2 or 3 in every average class of 30 in the UK.

Find out more about DLD and explore I CAN’s host of DLD resources for schools here.  


  • Want to find out more?

      • Analysis of Department for Education statistics has shown that more than half of children with language difficulties are not being identified by schools. Reasons why many children with language difficulties do not have their needs accurately identified are explored in this blog.
      • The Bercow: Ten Years On oral evidence session on  Mental Health, Looked After Children and Youth Offending summarises evidence regarding prevalence of SLCN in these populations, and showcases best practice for support.
      • Schools and settings can calculate the number of children with SLCN in their area using the ‘Local Authority Interactive Tool’ (LAIT). This document contains information on this and the formula for calculating local prevalence.
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