Friday, 29 July 2011

The debate is being had – are you in or out? Laura Smith, Media and Campaign Manager

As a media professional, I know the importance of the phrase ‘if a debate is being had it's better to be in it than out and watching from the sidelines’. Media work is tough - you cannot ‘manage’ or ‘control’ the message but it is our job to frame the debate in the best way possible.

Yesterday, a piece on the BBC Today Programme (which has over 1 million listeners a day) set the pace for the news agenda. This has continued today with stories in the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph.

Journalists have been drawn to Frank Fields MP, the Government’s poverty czar, anecdotal comments that some children start school unable to say their name or even unaware that they have a name. We are talking about a small minority of children but experts like Jean Gross, Communication Champion, and other head teachers have said ‘sadly it does happen’.

Neil Wilson, a Head teacher of a federation of schools in Manchester, was brave enough to put his voice out there and say “This is the Holy Grail of breaking barriers of underachievement and disaffection”. And by ‘this’ he means improving children’s communication skills.

It's our job (and I mean the collective we) to broaden the debate out. To ensure that messages come through that communication underpins everything else, that we are not talking about one ‘homogenous’ group of children and importantly that the solutions are out there and great work is being done on the ground. Jean did this very well in yesterday Today’s Programme – you can listen again here.

The Communication Trust represents 40 voluntary and community organisations with expertise in speech, language and communication. Many of the children and young people we represent have a long term communication need that has absolutely nothing to do with social and environmental factors. They need specialist help at the right time and deserve greater understanding from society.

However, we also advocate for those children with delayed language and this is a large group - 50% in some areas of social deprivation. They are important because this is about children’s life chances and with the right help they can catch up with their peers. Our consortium understands more than most how challenging life is if you struggle to communicate and no child should do so needlessly.

This is why the Hello campaign (national year of communication) is working to help both groups of children and to make communication a priority for all. We have developed posters, top tips leaflets, ‘ages and stages’ booklets for parents and professionals that are all available free at

Within our consortium help lines are available (such as Afasic’s and I CAN’s enquiry service) and the British Stammering Association’s facebook page is an excellent example of support and advice that can be provided to others. If you haven’t – take a moment to find out more about our consortium here.

So I ask you to add your voice to the mix. Comment on newspaper articles, write your own blog, post up your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter and talk to others because that what’s the media does – it starts a conversation and then we need to fill it.

1 comment:

DJ said...

This piece inspired some thought and led me to ask if there has been a process of fault finding analysis as a result of the statement made by Mr. Neil Wilson. A result of this might identify why the children are having such difficulties, which in turn might point some of the blame toward the parents or guardians of those children. I believe that the skills that seemed to come naturally to the likes of my Grandmother have all but disappeared. If children are nurtured and encouraged rather than prevented and beaten down it might go some way to begin to repair the problem. While I wholeheartedly believe that educating the children specifically in communication to be a very valid response, would it not be as valid to teach parental skills and diplomacy skills to them also; in an attempt to prevent this sort of problem happening in the future. Not that I think it impossible to teach current parents to act more responsibly toward their children and nurturing their development, It would be naive to think that all would act upon it, as some simply do not possess the will or ability to be good parents.
Daran Oswyn Jones