For some of us, hope is in short supply. We face huge challenges in Scottish education, both in improving outcomes for children and in delivering manageable and rewarding job roles.

But I want to share with you some insights that I think give cause for hope, and a critical solution that has the potential to make the lives of pupils and staff significantly better.

That is, speech and language therapists, teachers, early years practitioners, and school staff working together to effect change which will benefit the children and young people in our nurseries and schools.

Having worked in schools and nurseries as a speech and language therapist for 23 years, I was at my happiest when working alongside my colleagues in the messy, complex and fast-moving environment of education. Working with children is a profound privilege, where we get the opportunity to change lives.

This isn’t just a nebulous, aspirational pipe dream. It’s reality. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Children coming to school low on hope, self-worth and confidence, entering an environment where they are safe, nurtured, and loved. Children with complex challenges that throw up seemingly unassailable walls to climb, having their needs met by effective teams, working together to remove barriers that stand in the way of learning and inclusion.

But first, let me pause there and give some time to the hard stuff. Whilst serving the public is a huge privilege, it is extremely challenging. I think we cannot build hope unless we first lay a full and accurate foundation of reality.

Challenges for Staff

The wellbeing of health and education professionals is a significant concern. 34% of NHS staff report feeling burnt out. Speech and language therapists are reporting that their workload is unmanageable. They are experiencing a perfect storm of increased demand, high vacancy rates (11.6%) and funding that is being cut across Scotland.

This in turn has led to record waiting times where the average longest wait for speech and language therapy is now 1 year and 1 month. There is a similar picture within the education sector, with significantly higher levels of work-related stress and lower wellbeing than the average across all industries. I will revisit this shortly, but first let’s discuss the children.

Challenges for Children

There are over a quarter of a million children and young people with predicted speech, language or communication needs in Scotland. 89% of early years professionals have seen an increase in the number and complexity of children with communication needs in the last few years.

Public Health Scotland found that there has been a sharp increase in speech developmental concerns recorded by health visitors compared to pre-pandemic. The pandemic has exacerbated a problem that has been around for a long time.

Why does this matter?

This is grim reading and appears to be a hopeless situation. So why have I entitled this article ‘Language of Hope’? Because improving children’s communications skills is like a superpower. It has the power to address many of the key priorities that teachers, local authorities, and government are wrestling with. The fantastic news is that children’s spoken language is one area of child development that is most amenable to change with the right support. Let’s consider how spoken language is linked to some of these key priorities.

  • Wellbeing: Good communication is a protective factor against mental health problems.
  • Attainment: Early language emerges as the most important factor in influencing literacy levels at age eleven – more important than behaviour, peer relationships, emotional wellbeing, positive social interaction, and attention.
  • Poverty: A study of a group of children who experienced deprivation showed that the level of vocabulary they present with at the age of 5 was shown to be the best predictor as to whether they might escape poverty in later life.
  • Behaviour: Communication difficulties are strongly associated with behavioural problems, with studies observing consistently higher levels of disruptive behaviour amongst children identified with communication needs.


The Scottish Government are cited on these issues. We welcome the development of a national action plan for speech, language and communication in the early years and the funding of six regional early years speech and language leads. But there is more to do. There are two things that need to be in place to truly address these issues: A whole system approach to improving communication skills and adequate resourcing.

I am convinced that with adequate resource, solutions are to be found in facilitating joint working opportunities.

After years of working in education settings, I am convinced that with adequate resource, solutions are to be found in facilitating joint working opportunities. Locating speech and language therapists in education settings and taking a whole school approach to improving communication skills for all is key to this. With such a model, effective change could be implemented in the five key areas of early identification, environments, family support, workforce and intervention .

Normalising SLTs in educational placements would reduce the demand on teachers and provide the support they are asking for. Let’s consider behaviour for example. A recent EIS survey highlighted that ‘violence and aggression’ in schools has grown significantly in the last four years and is impacting on staff mental health and disrupting teaching. We know behaviour is a form of communication and speech and language therapists can enable children to find ways to communicate constructively. By improving children’s language skills, we can support children to understand the world around them, regulate their emotions and have positive social interactions.

In order to deliver this type of model, we need a threshold of resource. Funding for the SLT service is being reduced in some areas of Scotland and RCSLT is working with key partners to develop a partnership funding agreement with health and education. There is hope! But we must harness the collective wisdom of teachers and speech and language therapists to influence change and make that hope a reality for children, young people, and staff across Scotland.

To raise awareness of the importance of communication and to share ideas about how to improve children’s communication skills, we have launched a campaign called Voicebox – to encourage children to communicate by telling jokes! This is a fun way for your school to help us in this awareness raising endeavour. Find out more here:

Glenn Carter, Head of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, Scotland Office