Speech, Language and Communication Support for Children — [Ms Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:38 am on 4th July 2018.

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Photo of Nadhim Zahawi Nadhim Zahawi The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education 10:38 am, 4th July 2018

I will make some progress and then, as I think we might be all right on time, I will give way.

We have announced a range of measures worth more than £100 million to address word gap, including £20 million for school-led professional development for early years practitioners to support early language development, and a £5 million “what works” fund in partnership with the Education Endowment Foundation. The evidence is clear that parents have a crucial role in this area. The “Study of Early Education and Development” report showed that, aside from maternal education, the home learning environment is the single biggest influence on a child’s vocabulary at age three. We will therefore invest £5 million to trial evidence-based home learning environment programmes in the north of England.

On 1 July, we launched a £6.5 million fund and invited voluntary and community sector organisations to bid for grants to run projects that help disadvantaged families and children with additional needs, and improve children’s early language and literacy skills. Local authorities sit at the centre of a wide range of services and workforces that make a big difference to SLCN. We will work with local authorities through a peer support and challenge programme to deliver better early language outcomes for disadvantaged children, learning from the best evidence so that we can scale it. We will also publish an early years dashboard showing local authorities’ performance in early years outcomes, with a focus on disadvantaged children and early language and literacy.

We recognise the important links between a child’s early health and development and their later education outcomes. That is why we have formed a partnership with Public Health England, which my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton Deane mentioned, and the Department of Health and Social Care to improve early language outcomes for disadvantaged children. In May, Public Health England launched a call for good local practice and pathway examples. At a workshop in London today, it will set out the key components of a model speech, language and communication needs pathway built on the best evidence and experience of implementation in practice. Those resources will provide health visitors with additional tools and training to identify and support children’s SLCN, and ensure that the right support is put in place early.

Let me turn to the mental health Green Paper. Mental health was another key feature of the “Bercow: Ten Years On” report, which highlighted the links between SLCN and mental health issues and made a number of recommendations about how the proposals in the Green Paper link with SLCN provision. The Government published the Green Paper, “Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision”, on 4 December last year. The consultation closed on 2 March and we are currently considering responses. We will issue a formal response in due course.

The Green Paper creates clear expectations about the changes every area should seek in order to improve activity on prevention, partnership working between children and young people’s mental health services and schools, and access to specialist support. As part of that, we are incentivising every school and college to train a designated senior lead for mental health to co-ordinate a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. We expect the designated senior lead to liaise with speech and language therapists to ensure that children with SLCN receive the help they need.