The Bercow Report was the product of an independent review of services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). It was the first major review of this its kind for seven years in an aspect of SEN which was increasingly viewed as affecting an increasing number of vulnerable children and young people.
The Report emphasises the importance of enabling children to develop the skills and confidence to communicate; this, the report suggests, is an essential life skill for all children and young people and it is crucial to their social, emotional and educational development. And yet the members of the team compiling the Report point to evidence of insufficient understanding of the importance of speech, language and communication amongst policy makers, professionals and service providers, and sometimes even parents and families.
The Report makes 40 recommendations which are gathered under five themes:
- Communication is crucial;
- Early identification and intervention are essential;
- A continuum of services designed around the family is needed;
- Joint working is critical; and
- The current system is characterised by high variability and a lack of equity.
Amongst the recommendations made are that more focus is placed on training speech, language and communication specialists, and that it receives far more emphasis at both primary and secondary school levels. Moreover, the Report recommends that government ‘reinforces its inclusive approach to SEN in the newly revised secondary curriculum by preparing and disseminating widely exemplifications of the effective removal of barriers for pupils with SLCN, in line with the principles of the National Curriculum inclusion statement'.
Tellingly, the Report, in its Executive Summary (p.3) makes the point that "If a child does not benefit from early intervention, there are multiple risks - of lower educational attainment, of behavioural problems, of emotional and psychological difficulties, of poorer employment prospects, challenges to mental health and,
In some cases, of a descent into criminality"
The emphasis upon communication is timely, as it is a core aspect of building effective relationships. If children and young people can communicate effectively, using a wide repertoire, they are less likely to become frustrated about a perceived inequality or grievance. ‘Listening schools' and ‘listening classrooms' can only thrive where all pupils have the skills and strategies to communicate. Moreover, many of the the recommendations made are consistent with the overall approaches adopted by the SEAL strategies in primary and secondary settings.