Top tips for council leaders: early years speech, language and communication

View tips on early years speech, language and communication.

1. Understand the importance of good speech, language and communication (SLC) in the early years

The early years (0-5) is a critical time for language development, and it impacts on all areas of a young child’s learning. It enables them to manage their emotions, communicate feelings, build and maintain relationships and learn to read and write. It is an essential part of all children’s development and has a significant impact on their adult life:

  • Only 20.3 per cent of pupils with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) gained grade 4/C or better in English and maths at GCSE, compared with 63.9 percent of all pupils.
  • Eighty-one per cent of children with emotional and behavioural disorders have unidentified language needs. 
  • Children with vocabulary difficulties at age five are three times as likely to have mental health problems in adulthood.
  • Children with poor vocabulary skills at age five are twice as likely to be unemployed when they reach adulthood.
  • Sixty per cent of young offenders have low language skills. 
  • Children with poor vocabulary skills at age five are at greater risk of poverty and social disadvantage.  
  • The home learning environment (HLE) has significant influence on children’s verbal ability. As early as two to three years, the HLE can differentiate children meeting age related expectations for early communication.

2. Get to know your local context 

It is important for you to know what is happening in your area and how speech, language and communication is being supported across the whole sector, from midwifery, health visitors, childcare provision to schools. 

Who is taking the strategic lead for SLC? How long are the waiting lists to see a speech and language therapist, and how are families being supported whilst they wait for an assessment or intervention? Does your area have a SLC pathway and a robust strategy with all partners included? What identification tools are being used and are these available to all? (for example, the Early Language Identification Measure) And what training is available for front line practitioners on SLC?

Is your local area included in programmes designed to improve speech, language and communication outcomes? For example, Early Language Support for Every Child (ELSEC)? This is a two-year pathfinder programme which will fund innovative workforce models to improve early identification and support for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs within early years and primary school settings. ELSEC will take place in nine sites across England, one in each Change Programme Partnership. It is running across two academic years from September 2023 to August 2025.

Do you understand local capacity across services; in relation to the early years workforce is your local area included in the initiative to drive recruitment of new and returning staff to the sector.

What work is taking place in your Family Hubs and Children’s Centres and wider Voluntary and Community Services to support families who find services challenging to access and may be at risk of children’s needs not being identified in the early years?

3. Work for the best interests of your local children and families

Be curious about the different experiences of children and families and think about how best to hear from them. This could be through attending sessions at Family Hubs and Children’s Centres or visiting a childcare provision. Learning from them about how the systems and pathways work in practice will enable processes to be better evaluated and improved.

4. Build relationships with key partners

Ensuring that all partners are part of the area wide strategy and delivery of speech, language and communication support is vital. Communication with partners ensures that good practice is shared and challenges overcome. It will help avoid duplication and gaps in service provision. The local Integrated Care Board will be key in driving this work. 

5. Know where to access additional information and support

There are a number of useful reports and tools that are available to provide support with developing strategies, pathways and interventions.

EIF Maturity Matrix provides a useful tool to evaluate services across the area.

Best Start in Speech, Language and Communication provides guidance to help improve SLC in the early years, including an Early Language Identification Measure and Intervention tool for use with children aged two to two and a half. 

Education Endowment Foundation offers guidance on evidence-based approaches and impact with a specific area dedicated to interventions to support early years speech, language and communication in their early years toolkit

6. Access the LGA support

The LGA have a grant from the Department for Education to provide support to Local Authorities and partners. This includes peer challenges, bespoke support from an LGA consultant, case studies, webinars and conferences and regional communities of practice.

There is an e-learning module for councillors on the importance of Speech and Language in the Early Years. 

More information on the current support offer can be found on our webpage  and in the Early Years Must Know Guide.