Many students will start secondary school with unidentified speech, language, and communication needs (SLCN) as needs are often missed or misidentified.

The Communication Trust (‘Talk of the Town’, 2014) found an average of around 40% of children with SLCN were not being identified. Those who were most difficult to spot were older students, particularly those with difficulties understanding language, of whom 48% in Key Stage 3 were not identified.

A steep increase in language and communication demands at secondary school

There is an enormous increase in demand on our students’ language, communication and executive function skills when they start secondary school, yet their brains and skills are far from developed.

Students will encounter increasingly complex and nuanced language together with higher volumes of information. The effect of this combined with greater social demands and juggling multiple subjects, teachers and peers should not be underestimated. Nor should the effects of adolescence and significant structural changes going on in teenage brains at a time when young people are trying to establish their identity and fit in with their peers.

The hidden nature of language and communication difficulties

Language and communication needs that might not have had significant impact at primary school may now start to present significant challenges for a student. However, these difficulties can be hard to spot often ‘hidden’ by challenging behaviour or masking, especially in girls.

Research estimates that there are two children in every classroom with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) – a lifelong condition which affects people’s ability to express and understand language.

Difficulties with understanding are almost impossible to spot from observation alone. On the surface teenagers may appear capable communicators but they may have become adept at masking, copying their peers or hiding behind learnt classroom routines.

Sadly, and not uncommonly, students’ SLCN may only be diagnosed because of extreme behaviours such as self-harming, eating disorders, anxiety-based school absence and angry outbursts. Research has found that 8 in 10 children with emotional and behaviour disorders have unidentified language difficulties (Hollo et al, 2014).

Impact of SLCN on academic achievement and friendships

Good understanding and functional communication skills are essential for literacy development, academic success and engagement and social participation.

Without identification and the right interventions to support them, students with SLCN are at risk of underachievement and having mental health issues, behavioural problems, low self-esteem, difficulty making friends, low attendance and reduced life chances. Just 20% of students with SLCN achieve grade 4/C or above in English and maths at GCSE, compared with 64% of all pupils.

It’s never too late to identify SLCN

Despite the evidenced benefits of early intervention, it is NEVER too late to identify and support the SLCN of a student. That is why universal language screening in year 7 is vitally important. It will help unearth language difficulties and allow for timely intervention, to lessen the impact on a student’s learning, behaviour and wellbeing.

Secondary Language Link – universal assessment and interventions

Secondary Language Link enables schools to identify students’ language and communication needs at the start of Year 7. It also enables schools to put timely individualised interventions in place to reduce the barriers preventing them from achieving their full academic and communication potential.

Its online assessment is designed to screen all students in year 7 to ensure that no one falls under the radar. It is standardised and covers core language and social understanding.

Its age-appropriate, targeted language interventions will be recommended for students with identified receptive language and communication difficulties. These are fully planned and resourced and accompanied by online staff training, created by speech and language therapists, to empower teachers to identify and support SLCN in the classroom.

Research studies demonstrate that students’ functional language and communication skills significantly improved following Secondary Language Link intervention as did their confidence.

The power and impact of universal screening in Year 7 cannot be overstated. We are letting our students down if we let them fall through the cracks.

Learn more and book a free trial!

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