There are calls for more early intervention for pre-school children and a greater emphasis on oral language skills, including training early childhood workers and teachers in speech, language and communication development.
Speech Pathology Australia is also calling for the fast-tracking of the introduction of a standardised Year One assessment of reading, phonics and numeracy skills, to help further identify early, students who need additional assistance with oral language skills.
Approximately 20 per cent of children who start school have a speech, language or communication problems that impacts on their ability to access the curriculum, participate and achieve at schools. This can result in poor educational outcomes, reduced job prospects, and mental health issues in the longer-term.
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Charles Sturt University recently conducted research about NAPLAN outcomes of Australian students with speech and language problems. The research found that these students do significantly poorer on every measure (reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy), and at all years of testing examined (years 3, 5, and 7), than students without these problems.
Children with difficulties in communication experience the following problems at school:
*Learning to read, write and numerate;
*Participating fully in classroom activities;
*Interacting with teachers – asking questions, seeking help, sharing comments or retelling stories;
*Understanding directions (written and verbal);
*Interacting with other students – either during learning activities or at play;
*Retaining new information; and
*Understanding social cues and implied, non-verbal instructions from teachers.
“We have now had five years of NAPLAN results. If we keep doing what we have been doing, nothing will change,” says Gaenor Dixon, National President of Speech Pathology Australia.
“The federal Minister for Education says we need to focus on evidence-based measures that will get results for our students today. Well, we already have that evidence. Children with untreated communication problems start behind and never catch up.”
“Providing schools with access to the services of speech pathologists will help children with communication difficulties and free-up teachers for the all-important task of teaching.”
“We need to create a learning environment to maximise the educational outcomes for developmentally and socially vulnerable children, and provide children who have clear needs with appropriate intervention.”
While some students have diagnosable speech and language disorders, there are also many who experience difficulty learning to read who do not have an ‘obvious’ speech and language problem. Speech pathologists have detailed knowledge of, and expertise in improving, phonological awareness (including phonemic awareness and phonics) and how these relate to literacy development.