Child speech delays increase following lockdowns


The number of five and six year olds who need speech and language support at school has risen by 10% in England over the past year, BBC analysis shows.

The increase, which is substantially greater than previous years, is partly due to lockdown limiting social interactions, experts say.

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists says the profession is struggling to cope with the demand.

The government says it is investing £180m in early years development.

The BBC's Shared Data Unit's analysis found that the number of children in Year 1 who needed help with their language use increased more than most other areas of special educational needs.

A total of 42,341 children required extra support in 2021/22, up from 38,560 in 2020/21.

This is the year group who started reception after the first lockdown and had considerable disruption to their early years learning.

Previous rises in speech and language needs have been put down to larger student numbers and better detection in schools but the latest increase is much bigger.

Charity Speech and Language UK told the BBC that Covid restrictions affected some children's development by limiting socialising and new experiences, which helps them learn new words.

More than 100 charities and parent and carer organisations have written to the government to say long-term investment is needed to plug gaps in the specialist workforce supporting children in schools - including speech and language therapists.

Jane Harris, chief executive of Speech and Language UK, is calling for schools to be given free access to a screening tool to help them spot problems early.

She says children struggling with speech and language otherwise end up being incorrectly "labelled" with having mental health or behavioural problems.

There have been similar rises in Scotland, with children needing communication support increasing by 20% in the last two years. In Wales there was a slight decrease overall, but some councils have seen rises. Relevant data for Northern Ireland is not available, however the number of children with special educational needs is steadily rising.

Tips for parents

Make some time for playing and chatting with your child every day and follow their lead

Make comments rather than asking your child lots of questions. Questions can feel like a test to children

Share books with your child. This doesn't mean you have to read all the words - you can talk about the pictures

Build a good relationship with your child's school. Discuss your concerns and see if they have noticed the same things and what can be done to help

Look for information and ideas on the BBC's Tiny Happy People website or Speech and Language UK's website

By Vanessa Clarke, Education Reporter & Paul Lynch & Paul Bradshaw

Source: BBC News Shared Data Unit

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