The Government’s education white paper Opportunity for All was released on 28th March 2022. It restated the announcement (originally made in February, as part of the 12 missions for Levelling Up) the aim that by 2030, 90% of children would reach expected levels in reading, writing and maths, at the end of primary school (up from 65% in 2019). In addition the Government would like to see the average of all secondary pupils’ national GCSE grade in both English language and in maths moving from 4.5 in 2019 to 5 by 2030.

The white paper describes how ‘literacy and numeracy are the bedrock of a great education, unlocking the whole curriculum and turbocharging social mobility’. The research identifying the direct link between speech, language and communication development and outcomes in literacy and maths as well as across the whole curriculum, is undisputed. So, where can we see the focus on support for children’s oral communication skills in the new white paper?

The white paper identifies the importance of excellent teachers: A new Leading Literacy NPQ (part of the range of teachers’ National Professional Qualifications). The framework for this qualification, rightly, has a strong focus on developing children‘s spoken language skills, with the second strand focusing particularly on developing language. The new NPQ in behaviour and culture also includes a requirement to develop skills in ‘Liaising with parents, carers and specialist colleagues to better understand pupils’ individual circumstances..’and ‘Selecting, adapting and consistently using targeted, age/developmentally appropriate interventions without lowering expectations of any pupil’s behaviour.’

Unfortunately, there is still separation between the skills and quality expected of early years practitioners and those of teachers. Early years practitioners will now be able to access a new professional qualification and teachers will have a minimum starting wage of £30,000. We know that good quality early years education has an important impact on later outcomes, all the way through life, so we would like to see people who work with children in their earliest years appropriately trained and recognised for their skills and quality input at the foundation stage.

The (previously announced) 55 Education investment Areas also feature strongly. No details are yet available about how these areas will focus on speech, language and communication to underpin their local educational aspirations. New opportunities for Local Authorities to set up Multi-Academy Trusts may complement this work – the white paper confirms the Government’s desire for all schools to be part of a MAT by 2030.

The focus on excellent teachers and the prerequisite appropriate training is something that Speech & Language Link is pleased to make available through the new accredited training offer. The Link Speech and Language CPD aligns closely with the Early Careers Framework requirement to adapt teaching for pupils with a range of needs (standard 5).

The white paper describes how a child with additional needs should be provided with ‘targeted support’ throughout their school experience. This includes;

  • identifying a child’s needs
  • clarity on who is supporting the individual child and their role
  • regular monitoring and progress information
  • strong day-to-day teaching and
  • evidenced-based interventions being delivered.

There is also the proposal for a new leadership level SENCo NPQ to be developed.

Minister Zahawi details the Parent Pledge (described on p38) which shows how a school needs to keep the parent regularly updated on their child’s needs and how they are progressing following timely, evidence-based support.

Children with additional needs will also be able to access free holiday clubs. (I am hoping that some thought has gone into how staff who run these will develop the skills to support pupils with additional needs including speech, language and communication needs).

A key message in the Government’s new white paper is that ‘by 2030, every child who falls behind in English or maths will get the right support to get back on track’. They also state that ‘Even before the pandemic, too many children – especially those who are most vulnerable – fell behind and never caught up with their peers. Too many parents bear the stress and worry of fighting for the specialist support their child needs. A step change is needed to deliver our literacy and numeracy missions, so more children in both primary and secondary school get back on track when they are struggling.’

We welcome the focus on support for core skills of reading, writing and maths, for those with additional needs and the underlying acknowledgement of how speech, language and communication skills contribute to children’s positive outcomes. We watch with eagerness to see how support for communication skills are prioritised in meeting the Government’s new targets.

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