Listening to unheard children

Teachers now estimate 1.9 million children are behind with talking and/or understanding of words. This is the highest number ever recorded!

A shocking rise in speech and language challenges

Read our new Listening to unheard children report, for our findings and recommendations after surveying more than 1,000 teachers across the UK.

For children who struggle to talk and understand words, their whole lives are affected. They are six times more likely to be behind in English at age 11 and eleven times more likely to be behind in maths at age 11. They also have more mental health problems, and are twice as likely to be unemployed as an adult.

We believe that every child should be able to get speech and language support when they need it so they aren’t left behind.

Here are nine solutions to transform the lives of 1.9 million children, their families and our country:

  1. Introduce a new tool for schools to track talking and understanding words at Key Stage 1 and 2 in the same way that every school tracks literacy and numeracy skills.
  2. Train all teachers and early years practitioners to spot which children are struggling with talking and understanding of words and know how to help or where to refer them to.
  3. Produce guidance for teachers and schools about what evidence-based tools and programmes work for children with speech and language challenges, especially those that can be delivered by schools without specialist support.
  4. Update Ofsted guidelines to include more ambitious language goals for educational institutions on speech, language and communication. For example, all good nurseries should help children to use new vocabulary and speak with increasing confidence and fluency, not just outstanding ones.
  5. Incentivise the new Integrated Care Boards to work with local authorities and make sure there is support on language skills from the start of new parents’ journey; just as it is for feeding or vaccinations.
  6. Change guidance for Family Hubs, which currently actively disincentives any programmes for children on language and communication before the age of 3.
  7. Ask the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to develop guidance on Developmental Language Disorder so that there is more clarity about what support the NHS should provide and what children with speech and language challenges and their families can expect.
  8. Work with experts on proper workforce planning, making sure there is enough specialist support available for children with life-long challenges and bringing down the 25% vacancy rate for children’s speech and language therapists in the NHS year-on-year.
  9. Fund a more ambitious campaign to shift families’ behaviour and prevent speech and language challenges developing, building on learning from the Government funded Hungry Little Minds and alongside the BBC’s Tiny Happy People.