This morning I took part in the Westminster Hall Debate about Speech, language and communication support for children. I wanted to speak for several important reasons. Firstly, to highlight the incredible work of organisations such as Stoke Speaks Out, secondly to highlight the challenges we face as a designated ‘opportunity area’ and to appeal to the government to put in place a sustainable and realistic funding scheme in place to support this work.
Stoke Speaks Out, led by Janet Cooper is an organisation that uses a multi-disciplinary early intervention approach to identify speech and language impediments in children at an early age. Recognising the importance of speech and communication skills in preparedness for school, Stoke Speaks Out have been responsible for a significant improvement (from 35% in 2016 to 54% in 2017) in the number of children starting school with the communication skills they need.
Stoke Speaks Out are also responsible for the distribution of thousands of books across the city and have worked with reading charities such as Beanstalk who train volunteers to go into schools to read with children to improve their performance and confidence. There is no doubt that the work being done by such groups are improving the life chances of our local children, but also changing attitudes to learning and reading. Stoke-on-Trent is a designed opportunity area by government with a three-year funding program led by Professor Liz Barnes and Dr Carol Shanahan to tackle the fact that too many of our children particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are not doing well enough.
However, just like the limited funding that we receive as an opportunity area, groups such as Stoke Speaks Out also face significant funding pressures as income streams are limited. This means successful groups, with a proven track record of success are having to continually reshape their service and bid for new funding instead of expanding the reach of the work they are doing. I finished my speech with an appeal to the government to look at sustainable funding in this area to give groups such as Stoke Speaks Out the opportunity to reach as many children as possible. To help those children and families maximise their potential and give them the best chance in life.