A new study has revealed that more than half of children from Scotland’s most deprived areas come to school with subpar speech and language skills.

And according to the same study by The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) 6,503 Scottish children are waiting for their initial meeting with a speech and language therapist.

The RCSLT reports that there are now more than 250,000 children and young people – roughly one in every four – with predicted speech, language, or communication support needs.

Their study calculated that the average longest wait for an initial meeting with a therapist has increased by over seven months in the past five years.

Scottish Government statistics show that the total number of pupils with any type of additional support needs (ASN) in Scotland has doubled over the last decade.

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In 2013, there were 131,593 students with additional support needs. Last year, that number was 259,036, roughly 37% of the student population.

Speech and language support accounts for a growing proportion of identified ASN.

In 2022, 19,071 Scottish pupils were receiving some form of speech and language support in the classroom. That is a rate of 27 out of every 1,000 pupils.

It is almost triple the rate from 2010, when 7,200 pupils ( 10.7 out of every 1,000) were receiving the same type of additional support.

The growth has been highest amongst young girls: In 2010, there were 5,031 female pupils receiving speech and language support. In 2022, that number was 13,268.

During the same period, the number of males receiving speech therapy increased from 2,169 to 5,803.

To raise awareness of the growing need for speech therapy and the gap between referrals and treatment, RCSLT has launched VoiceBox, a nationwide joke competition.

The Herald: VoiceBox will give primary school pupils a chance to joke their way to big prizes for their school.VoiceBox will give primary school pupils a chance to joke their way to big prizes for their school. (Image: Stock)

More than 150 children took part in the inaugural VoiceBox competition at Chirnsyde Primary School in Glasgow on Monday.

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Glenn Carter, Head of RCSLT Scotland, said: "As we launch VoiceBox, we celebrate the importance of communication and the incredible potential within every child.

“Humour has the power to connect us, underscoring the importance of speech and language in our lives.

“Communication is not a luxury; it is a fundamental human right.

“Speech and language therapists are a precious resource for improving communication skills for the children of Scotland and we need to preserve this resource.

“Every child's voice deserves to be heard, and it's our responsibility to ensure they have the support they need to thrive."

Ms Carter added that a recent survey shows 89% of early years practitioners reported seeing more children with communication needs.

“Speech and Language Therapy services are not just a ‘nice to have’, they are fundamental to children’s learning, behaviour, mental health, and future employment.”

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VoiceBox is open to pupils at every primary school in Scotland. The funniest young comic from each local authority will have a chance to wow journalist and comedian Zara Janjua, who will judge the finalists at the Scottish Parliament on June 6.

The top prize will see pupils bringing home vouchers for their school from Collins Big Cat to purchase reading and fluency support tools. The first-place jokester will win £500 for their school, with a further £200 prizes for second and third place.

All 32 finalists will take home £100 worth of books for their school.