Select Committee on Education and Skills Written Evidence



  Bryan K, Freer J and Furlong C (in press) Language and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders, International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders.

  To gauge the number juvenile offenders with speech, language and communication problems and the extent of any difficulties found, a sample of 58 juvenile offenders (half of one establishment randomly selected with no exclusions to be reasonably representative of the juvenile population given that admission criteria to juvenile establishments vary slightly) were assessed on a standardized tool, the Test of Adolescent and Adult Language 3rd Edition (TOAL-3) (Hammil et al 1994). The four verbal subtests which focus on spoken language skills were used. These were:

    —  listening/vocabulary (LV);

    —  listening/grammar (LG);

    —  speaking/vocabulary (SV); and

    —  speaking/grammar (SG).

  These subtests involve the understanding or use of spoken symbols, and their collective results can be used to estimate proficiency in spoken language. (Hammil et al 1994). The standardised data for this test is available up to age 24 years 11 months.

  The age of the sample ranged from 15 years and two months to 18 years one month (juveniles with a short period of their sentence left to run after their 18th birthday will normally be permitted to finish their sentence within the juvenile establishment rather than transferring to a Young Offender Institution (18-21 years). The mean age was 17 years.

  The length of sentence varied from 4-54 months. Fifty six of the participants had English as a first language and two did not. This is a lower than average proportion of non-English first language than might be expected across the juvenile prison estate but reflects the catchment area of the establishment. This also reflects the importance of considering speaking and listening skills for first language speakers. Recording of ethnic group information was also available, 37 were white British or Irish, nine were mixed race white and black Caribbean or white and Asian, three were Asian or Asian British, two were black Caribbean and four did not have this information available.

  Nineteen of the participants were "looked-after" children. Nine of the participants had a medical diagnosis listed in their prison record. This might be ADHD or autistic spectrum but also included physical illnesses, although the illness would not be so severe as to preclude placement within a prison environment. Forty of the participants had a history of drug and alcohol misuse—this would include a spectrum of difficulties from single episodes of drunkenness that had attracted the attention of authorities through to prolonged drug and/or alcohol abuse. Five had Learning Difficulties (they entered prison with a statement of special educational needs or a confirmed diagnosis). Only three participants had received SLT previously.

  In terms of school attendance, data was not available for eight participants, of the remaining 50, four participants ceased to attend school at 16, I was still in school at the time of conviction, 18 ceased to attend at age 15, 10 at age 14, eight at age 13, six at age 12, one at age 10, one at age 9 and one at age 8. The results therefore show that 90% of juvenile offenders in this sample ceased to attend school before the statutory leaving age with 18% of these not attending at age 12 or younger.

  Literacy and Numeracy levels for the participants on entry to the establishment (using standard screening) were as follows:
Below entry level10
Entry 156
Entry 287
Entry 32222
Level 11013
Level 1+22
Level 231
No information available7 7
Total58 58

  The data suggests that 62% of the participants did not reach level one in literacy and 60% did not for numeracy.

  On the TOAL-3, summary statistics for standard scores (scoring scale 1-20) were:

NMinimum MaximumMean Std Deviation
TOAL-3 Listening/Vocabulary Standard Score 551.008.00 4.43642.14099
TOAL-3 Listening/Grammar Standard Score 531.0011.00 5.18872.60219
TOAL-3 Speaking/Vocabulary Standard Score 551.0010.00 4.96362.21078
TOAL-3 Speaking/Grammar Standard Score54 1.0017.006.2776 4.14099
Valid N (listwise)53

  The scores show that as a group, the mean scores are below the midpoint on the standard scoring. Based on this sample, the results suggest that juvenile offenders are likely to have lower levels of vocabulary and grammatical competence than age matched peers.

  On the TOAL-3, standard scores are used to give the clearest indication of the person's performance. The following guideline for scores (based on a standard distribution) is suggested:
Standard scoreDescription % normal population included
17-20very superior2.34
13-14above average16.12
6-7below average16.12
1-3very poor2.34

  Using these parameters, the performance of the participants can be classified as shown in table three.
TestPoor or very poor % Below average %Total % below average
Listening Vocabulary67% 23%90%
Listening Grammar51% 33%84%
Speaking Vocabulary62% 20%82%
Speaking Grammar46% 20%66%

  The results show that 66-90% score below average on sub-tests of the TOAL-3 ie have skills below the level that would be expected for their age. Taking the poor or very poor group (equivalent to the bottom 9% of the overall population for this age group), this sample suggests that the juvenile population shows a much higher than expected proportion of young people within this category 46-67% (across the four sub-tests).

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