Identifying children with SLCN

Image credit: Micaela Plachetko

Wendy Lee has been a Speech and Language Therapist for 30 years, and was previously Professional Director at The Communication Trust. In this post, Wendy looks at the importance of identifying children with SLCN, the options once a child has been identified, and what works.

Trouble talking

Many children (around 7%)[1] have difficulties learning their own language. They may not understand what is being said or express themselves clearly. Unlike their peers, they may struggle to use their language to think and solve problems or tell us tales of their activities and interests.

There are more children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) than any other childhood disability[2]. The impact can be far reaching, impacting on learning, self-esteem and social interaction skills, with strong links between language and literacy.


One challenge is to ensure we are identifying all children with SLCN, as research suggests this group is still under-identified in our schools. It can be tricky to work out which children need support, but there are many strategies that can really help.

Many children with poor attainment have SLCN, so it is always useful to ask ourselves whether there might be an underlying language difficulty for these children. Children at risk of exclusion are also a high-risk group. There are freely available resources to check out if you have any concerns, and downloadable posters and booklets and online checks to think about whether children’s language is age appropriate[3].

What do we know?

Children with SLCN say that when adults understand the nature of their difficulties, it can really help. There is a lot of information about SLCN, including videos of children themselves explaining what it is like for them and what helps. The RALLI campaign has a range of videos[4] as does the Communication Trust – the children are amazing[5]! There are also many options for professional development, from day courses to qualifications[6], including the level 3 qualification run by The Communication Trust[7]. Check out your local speech and language therapy service as many run CPD for teaching staff.

What next?

Once identified, children with SLCN may need a range of options. Some will need speech and language therapy, while others may benefit from trained school staff working with them through a targeted approach to support their language. Some children will have long-term difficulties and will need additional support in school. Whatever their needs, children will benefit from being in a classroom that supports communication. Why not check out how communication supportive your classroom is?[8]

What works?

Teachers tell me that sometimes it is difficult to know just where to start for this group of children. There is information on the best-evidenced interventions[9] and speech and language therapists can offer advice and support.

Some of the schools I work with report excellent local support from speech and language therapy teams. Others have experienced changes, with less support available into their schools; many more are buying in support.

We know budgets are tight and resources can be a limiting factor, but schools can collaborate with others to buy in speech and language therapists, to run CPD events or to share good practice.

There are many freely available resources and information sources through third-sector organisations such as The Communication Trust[10], which has 50 organisations, all of whom support children with speech, language and communication needs.