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Children: Speech and Language — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 29th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 2:53 pm, 29th January 2013

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to co-ordinate their response to the recommendations of the Better Communication Research Programme; and how they plan to ensure that those recommendations are reflected in local authorities' local offers.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as chairman of the All-Party Group on Speech and Language Difficulties.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, my department and the Department of Health are working with the Communication Trust and its partners to disseminate this excellent research, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this today. The research will help those who plan, commission and deliver support for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs to improve the way they identify those who need help and the effectiveness of the support they provide. We will take account of the findings of the research in developing plans for the local offer.

Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. We have been waiting for the government response to this quite excellent programme since last June, and I remind the House that it consists of a report, two volumes of findings, four thematic reviews and 10 technical reports, which have been drawn up by experts over a considerable period and represent an absolute mine of evaluation, information and advice. I feel that we have not yet heard who will actually be responsible for driving the whole thing forward. The Minister mentioned the Departments of Education and Health, but there is also the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Work and Pensions and others whose contribution must be aggregated to make the best of what is in this report for all the children in this country.

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I agree with noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that this is landmark research which is undoubtedly the most extensive of its kind into the subject. The issues that it raises are so wide-ranging that they are clearly not the province of one agency or government department, as the noble Lord says, which is why we want to make sure that the research is widely available and disseminated as widely as possible. My department and the Department of Health are working closely with the Communication Trust to co-chair the communication council which the Communication Trust is facilitating. The council brings together representatives from government, local authorities, health agencies, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, early-years settings, and schools, parents, young people and the voluntary sector. The council will keep up the momentum by developing a comprehensive dissemination plan for the research, sharing learning about effective approaches to supporting children with SEN and promoting better awareness of speech, language and communication needs.

Photo of Baroness Whitaker Baroness Whitaker Labour

My Lords, my profound apologies for over-eagerness, especially in view of the noble Lord's excellent question.

The Better Communication Research Programme places great emphasis on regular monitoring of children's language development over time so that when they need support, they can get it in the right way. How will the Government ensure that the need for regular monitoring is reflected in local authorities' local offers?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

We regard the solution to this issue as a local one. That is why we will be setting up the local offer involving children and young people with SEN and their parents and we will publish details of where parents can find all this available in one place. As young people will have an education, health and social care plan which will be reviewed every year, this will monitor the issues to which the noble Baroness refers.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Better Communication Research Programme report looked at speech and language therapy support in schools, and according to the report only 10% of mainstream secondary schools have such support. My noble friend the Minister will be aware that the provision of speech and language therapy throughout the country is very patchy. How can the Government ensure that anybody who needs this service can access it as quickly and efficiently as possible?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I know that the noble Lord has vast experience in education and I am grateful for his question. We are sharing widely the good practice in the better communications research where speech and language therapists work with teachers and teaching assistants to provide support. He is absolutely right about a divergence in provision around the country and the shortage of funds, but it must be for local authorities and their partners to assess local needs and to make better use of resources so that they are directed where they are needed. Our proposal for a local offer will do this and will put parents and young people at the heart of decisions.

Photo of Lord Howarth of Newport Lord Howarth of Newport Labour

My Lords, the Minister told us just now that the Department of Health and the Department for Education are working closely together in this area. With respect, for many years the two departments have claimed to be working closely together but when it comes to determining who pays for what, they have been quite unable to agree. Can the noble Lord assure us that he will personally use his own best endeavours to ensure that, in future, there is a proper complementarity of responsibilities in terms of how the funding is found for special needs education and for speech therapy in particular?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I thank the noble Lord for his question, and he is absolutely right about the poor record in cross-departmental work, particularly in this area. I shall investigate the matter and write to him further about it. I think he will be pleased with what he sees in the forthcoming Bill on this.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, we have heard from the noble Lord's colleague from the Department for Communities and Local Government that the north-west has been abolished as a region. Does the Minister's department recognise the north-west?

Photo of Lord Nash Lord Nash The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

Not only does my department recognise the north-west but we are working closely with the north-west to try to stimulate activity in academy schools there, and any help that the noble Lord can give us in that regard will be gratefully received.