July 14, 2009

The Bercow Review

A review of Services for Children and Young People (0-19) with Speech, Language and Communication Needs.

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Foreword, by John Bercow MP

Since I was elected to Parliament in 1997, I have always sought to assist any constituent who has a child with special needs to obtain the necessary help, but for a long time I had no direct experience of, or personal attachment to the subject. All that changed just over two years ago. Motivated by circumstances in my own family, I developed an intense interest in Special Educational Needs policy in general and services for those with communication difficulties in particular. To be able to communicate is a precious commodity. To be unable to do so can be a profoundly damaging disability. The challenge in a civilised society is to support those for whom communication is more difficult.

Last summer, after fifteen months in which I raised in Parliament the issue of speech, language and communication over twenty times, the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, Ed Balls, asked me if I would be willing to lead a review of provision and to suggest a way forward. Subject only to the caveats that I wanted to obtain the agreement of my party, to be an unpaid volunteer, and to publish my findings, I said that I would be happy to proceed. Alan Johnson and Ed Balls accepted the conditions and I accepted the task.

We agreed that I would concentrate on three key issues:

    • The range and composition of services required to meet the diverse needs of children and young people from 0 to 19 in an affordable way.
    • How planning and performance management arrangements, together with better cooperation nationally and locally between health and education services, can spur beneficial early intervention.
  • What examples of best practice could be identified as templates for the wider roll-out of services across the country.

I agreed to submit an interim report to Ed Balls and Alan Johnson in March 2008. This would be followed by a final report to both Secretaries of State in July 2008.

Over the last ten months our work has fallen into two distinct phases – the gathering of evidence and the formulation of recommendations. It is worth saying something about each.

The evidence we gathered was encapsulated in the interim report, published in March 2008, which set out what we learned, what we saw as the main challenges and what we believed to be the principal issues for further consideration. My colleagues and I have gathered evidence in four ways:

    • we issued a consultation questionnaire in October 2007 to which we received over 2,000 responses;
    • we have staged a series of consultation groups to hear views about, for example, young offenders’ communication difficulties and the plight of those who need Alternative and Augmentative Communication aids to express themselves. In addition, we listened
      in further consultation groups to the voices of parents, children and young people in locations across the country;
    • we visited Children’ Centres, nurseries, primary schools and secondary schools from London to Sussex, from Buckinghamshire to Kent, from Leicester to Manchester, from Oxford to Nottingham, from Essex to Salford and from Newcastle to Norwich to Plymouth. In the process, we have met speech and language therapists, teachers, special needs coordinators, classroom assistants, pupils, together with staff of Primary Care Trusts and local authorities, to discuss the issues; and
  • we commissioned research by leading academics in the field of speech, language and communication needs – Geoff Lindsay, Martin Desforges, Julie Dockrell, James Law and Nick Peacey. This research explored the efficiency and effectiveness in six case study areas of the provision for children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties. It further assessed the feasibility of conducting a cost-benefit analysis of investment in services for this group.

    Since March, our focus has been on formulating recommendations and consulting people who would implement them, be affected by them or have a view on them. Commissioners, workforce organisations, regulators, professional practitioners and voluntary bodies have all told us what they think. In formulating recommendations, I have had two overriding considerations in mind. First, we should do as much as we can for as many people to make our reform the most sustainable we can devise. Secondly, we should eschew any temptation to start from year zero with an ideological grand plan or unaffordable wish lists. Instead, my colleagues and I have concentrated on practical proposals which will improve services soon, together with measures to embed speech, language and communication in wider policy frameworks for the future.

    I am privileged to have been asked to lead this Review which for me has been the most stimulating endeavour of my parliamentary life. I hope that we can make a difference for the benefit of our children and young people by setting the direction of travel of public policy for the months and years ahead. For all that is good in our report, the Review Team deserves the credit. For whatever shortcomings it contains, I accept full responsibility.

    John Bercow MP