Schools are dedicated to closing the attainment gap, but how much do we focus on the gaps in spoken language? Former government communication champion Jean Gross looks at the problem of increasing language needs and offers three strategies to help close the gap
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I rarely meet a teacher these days who isn’t concerned about the growing number of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCNs) and it isn’t likely to get better any time soon.

In a recent survey (IHV, 2024), 82% of health visitors reported seeing a year-on-year increase in children with speech, language and communication delays in their pre-school caseloads. 

And surveys undertaken by Speech and Language UK (2023) estimate that at least 1.9 million primary and secondary-aged children are struggling with talking and understanding words. That equates to one in five school-aged children – the highest number ever recorded.

While some of these 1.9 million will have biologically based language difficulties that need specialist help, many more have needs that stem from a lack of opportunity in their environment to hear and use the kind of vocabulary and language structures that they need to succeed in school.

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