Memorandum submitted by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

 

 

Executive summary

The RCSLT is concerned that the undiagnosed speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) of children and young people is leading to higher levels of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET).

 

International evidence shows that communication is the key life skill, the means by which we meet our needs, form relationships and access education, employment and the rest of society.

 

Poor communication skills can have a major impact on young people's life chances. Young people with poor communication skills are more likely to leave school with low qualifications or little job prospects and thus in danger of becoming NEET.

 

Without early intervention or treatment, SLCN will lead to lower education attainment, lower employability, behavioural problems and a higher risk of offending behaviour.

 

The RCSLT is concerned that the government does not have an adequate strategy to identify, address and support these young people with communication needs.

 

The RCSLT would be very interested in the opportunity to present verbal evidence to the committee alongside this written submission

 

 

1. The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) is the professional body for speech and language therapists (SLTs), students and support workers working in the UK. The RCSLT has over 13,000 members, including nearly 95% of the speech and language therapists working in the UK. We promote excellence in practice and influence health, education, social care and justice policies.

 

Speech and language therapists play a major role in working directly with children and adults, as well as supporting other professionals in working with speech, language and communication needs.

 

2. Characteristics of people not in education, employment or training:

Up to 88% of these people suffer from speech language and communication needs[1]

Young people with learning difficulties and disabilities are twice as likely to be NEET as those without[2]

More than a third of these individuals have low level qualifications

Young people with low educational qualifications and persistent absentees from school are much more likely to become NEET

 

RCSLT response

3. Young people at risk

When young children with speech, language and communication needs start school, they carry a high risk of developing problems with literacy, numeracy and learning and developing social relationships.

 

Evidence shows that approximately 10% of school aged children have SLCN. Further SLCN are especially high in areas of deprivation averaging 55% of children are affected.

 

Evidence shows that a high number of children are wrongly labelled as having a behavioural difficulty, without any recognition of their communication difficulty. These difficulties make young people vulnerable in relation to education[3]. SLCN in secondary school age children often presents as a behavioural problem as the child cannot respond or cope with the world around them as adult demands begin to be made and this has an impact upon their behaviour.

 

Young people of compulsory school age are at risk of becoming NEET. If young people's SLCN is not addressed then a significant number of these vulnerable young people will go on to develop antisocial behaviour, which can lead to truancy and exclusion from school.

 

Young people with low attainment due to their language or communication needs are likely to leave school with no qualifications or job prospects and thus in danger of becoming not in education, employment or training (NEET).

 

4. Employment, education and training

When young people with SLCN leave school with low educational attainments they will find it difficult to enter employment or training schemes due to their lack of educational qualifications.

 

Where these young people do enter employment or training they will struggle to operate in this environment due to their SLCN. The result is that they drop out and become NEET.

 

A further complication for young people with SLCN is that employment and training schemes are not accessible. Evidence shows that employment in the United Kingdom increasingly relies on language and communication skills. A recent study of unemployed young males found that over 88% were described as language impaired[4], having some degree of difficulty with language. Further the prevalence of SLCN in this group was considerably above the 1% prevalence of SLCN found in the UK general population. These young people do not possess sufficient language skills and will struggle to access jobs therefore making them less employable are more likely to remain as NEET.

 

Without early intervention or treatment, SLCN will lead to lower education attainment, lower employability and a higher risk of offending behaviour.

 

5. In the community

If vulnerable young people in the community have not been equipped with the appropriate skills then they are at risk of becoming NEET. The RCSLT recommends that the development of life and social skills training be brought together with social communication to support these young people.

 

Young people with SLCN will not be able to access the numerous policy interventions[5] introduced by the government to tackle NEET without extra assistance. The majority of these interventions will require good communication skills to access them however nearly two-thirds of young people are unable to access these programmes because of their poor language skills.

 

Without support they are unable to take advantage of these interventions designed to help them find employment and training, thus exacerbating their current situation.

 

6. Cost of being NEET

There is a pressing case to address the numbers of young people who are NEET. There is a large economic cost of youth unemployment[6]. The Treasury itself has highlighted the financial impact with the long-term study of James, a boy with communication disability. It follows his life story to adulthood and starkly contrasts the very high extra financial cost in special education and intensive custodial provision, compared with the relatively modest coat of ongoing speech and language therapy support.

 

The personal cost to the individual includes wasted potential, low self-esteem, depression and, in some cases, early death. The Bercow review 2009 suggested that speech and language therapy support for young people is not forthcoming, is patchy and ends too soon to address the problems that emerge with adolescent.

 

The costs to society include increased levels of underachievement, poverty and crime.

 

7. Criminality

Studies show that being NEET for six months is likely to mean that by the age of 21 a young male is five times more likely to have a criminal record. As previously noted over 4/5 of NEETS suffer from speech language and communication needs, then it follows that there will be a high occurrence of SLCN in the justice system. Studies have estimated that approximately 60% of young offenders have communication problems[7].

 

8. Service delivery

The RCSLT recommends that the model of service delivery to meet the speech, language and communication needs of vulnerable young people is implemented. This model recommends that every youth offending team should have a speech and language therapist who would liaise with community provision including pupil referral units, mental health and drug misuse services and youth inclusion programmes.

 

The RCSLT recommends that speech and language therapy intervention delivered through Youth Offending Teams and Young Offenders Institutes can reduce offending behaviour. Investment in improving the communication skills of young people allows them to access education and training schemes thereby improving their own abilities.

 

Recent pilot projects in youth offending teams in Bradford and Leeds show that 74% and 65% respectively of these young people have communication difficulties. Almost none of these people were known to speech and language therapy and none were receiving support when they came into contact with the youth offending team. Their communication difficulties were sufficient to make it difficult for the young person to cope with rehabilitation aimed at preventing re-offending and education programmes.

 

Speech and language therapy can make a profound difference once the young person has been assessed and their communication difficulties identified. Staff in the Leeds YOT reported many impacts of having a speech and language therapist embedded within the team. 88% of young people made significant and measurable progress with their communication skills.

 

9. Conclusion

Improving the communication and language skills of young people is essential to allow them to engage in school, securing educational qualifications and better job prospects on leaving school.

 

As employment is predominantly language based, it is essential that young people are taught these skills in school or they will struggle to access jobs and training schemes therefore making them less employable are more likely to become and remain as NEET.

 

Without early intervention or treatment, SLCN will lead to lower education attainment, lower employability and a higher risk of offending behaviour.

 

10. RCSLT recommendations

1. Young people need to be screened for SLCN. Those who have a problem need access to specialist support.

2. Screening children and young people for SLCN and pursuing treatment is one strategy for the identification of young people at risk of falling into the "NEET" category.

3. The study into unemployed males[8] highlights a role for speech and language therapy in the area of unemployment.

4. The RCSLT recommends that the model of service delivery is implemented which addresses the cycle of deprivation for those at risk of becoming NEET.

5. The government needs to develop an robust strategy to identify, address and support these young people with communication needs.

 

 

December 2009



[1] Interim results from a PhD in preparation " An Investigation into the Communication Skills of Long-Term Unemployed Young Men", Natalie Elliott

[2] Department of Communities and Local Government 'Digital Exclusion Profiling of Vulnerable Groups - Young People not in Education, Employment or Training: A Profile'

[3] Hooper et al 2003

[4] Interim results from a PhD in preparation " An Investigation into the Communication Skills of Long-Term Unemployed Young Men", Natalie Elliott

[5] UK and English Policy interventions for NEET www.niassembly.gov.uk/researchandlibrary/2009/11009.pdf

[6] The Cost of Exclusion', Prince's Trust, April 2007,

[7] 2003 Polmont Young Offenders Institute survey

[8] Interim results from a PhD in preparation " An Investigation into the Communication Skills of Long-Term Unemployed Young Men", Natalie Elliott