Research Impact


Improving teaching and support for children with speech, language and communication needs

Reading for children with SLCN

12 December 2014


Professor Julie Dockrell's research has improved government policy and practitioner understanding of the nature and effects of speech, language and communication needs, benefiting the 7-10% of English children with speech and language difficulties.

Professor Julie Dockrell's research at the UCL Institute of Education has, over several decades, documented the nature and effects of speech, language and communication needs. It has highlighted the specific ways in which language-learning difficulties damage children's literacy development and scholastic attainment, and also affect their behaviour and well-being. The work demonstrated the challenges teachers and other professionals face in mapping these children's needs and providing effective interventions. It also pinpointed 'what works'. In particular, she has found that teachers often have inadequate training and support, and were unaware of developmental links between poor language and problems with literacy and behaviour. As a lead researcher on the Government's 2012 £1.5m Better Communication Research Programme she led a strand analysing children's needs in relation to available provision. A significant finding was that resources were allocated according to children's special education need categories, but these did not identify their language learning needs. By contrast, each child's needs depended on their individual characteristics, but differentiation to meet them was not evident in the classrooms.

Through impacts on policy and practice, this research has benefited the 7-10% of children in England who have speech and language difficulties, their teachers and parents, policy-makers and commissioners of services for such children. Professor Dockrell's findings on the damaging effect of speech and language difficulties on children's achievement and the lack of support they and their teachers received helped to persuade the Government to commission the influential Bercow Review (2008) and informed its findings and recommendations. In response, the Government released an action plan which launched the Better Communication Research Programme, of which Professor Dockrell was one of the lead researchers. Her research helped underpin all its recommendations - published in 2012 and accepted by the Government - but most explicitly those calling for changes to the way children are categorised and for individualised provision for each child built around family needs.

Based on the findings of this programme, the 2013 Children and Families Bill replaced the School Action and School Action Plus system to track progress with new guidance for schools to improve the identification of children with special education needs. Professor Dockrell also led the development of the Communication Supporting Classrooms Observation Tool for the Better Communication Research Programme and made it freely available online.

Working with Professor Morag Stuart, also of the UCL IOE, she helped shape, design and disseminate the Every Child a Talker (ECAT) programme (2008) and teaching materials which were adopted in all 152 local authorities in England. Informed by their 'Talking Time' research on the importance of good spoken language for reading comprehension, and the resource developed to support this, the programme led to large reductions in the number of children with language delays. Talking Time was one of only five universal interventions included on the What Works database produced by the Better Communication Research Programme.