75th anniversary

75 years of speech and language therapy

The RCSLT is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, Jois Stansfield traces the development of the RCSLT from its founding in 1945 to the present day.

Speech and language therapy in the UK became organised under a single professional body in 1945 as the College of Speech Therapists, now the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, which is planning celebrations for its 75th anniversary in 2020. Exploring the history of speech and language therapy gives us the opportunity to understand where we have come from and recognise how this influences our current and future professional lives.

I am currently conducting an oral history project, which has involved interviewing SLTs who qualified between 1945 and 1969. This has been eye-opening in terms of how the profession has changed in numbers (from just over 200 members in 1945 to the most recent figure of 17,422 members, indicated in the RCSLT’s 2018-19 Impact Report), but also in terms of the methods, challenges and opportunities reported by the participants. Full analysis is at an early stage, but during the conversations, participants provided all sorts of pictures and artefacts that reflected their experiences of work across the years. No doubt current readers also have memories of a wide range of items that have had professional resonance.

Professional identity

Speech and language therapy thrives on both real and stereotyped professional identity. In my interviews, ‘twinset and pearls’ were mentioned on numerous occasions, and one participant said that, while studying at college, student SLTs “had to wear blazers with the colours round it, and the proper scarf”.

There were many references to the professional and statutory bodies; logos and publications produced by these organisations were seen as defining the profession. Other items included qualification ‘parchments’, Licentiateship of the College of Speech Therapist (LCST) badges (the original LCST badge had the member’s number on the back) and Communicating Quality (1991, 1996 and 2006). Academic life was represented by examination papers, journals, key text books and photographs of fellow students.


In the 1950s there were no British standardised speech and language therapy assessments, and necessity was the mother of invention. One participant mentioned, for example, Joan van Thal’s invention of “a piece of apparatus which was a sort of jam jar for detecting nasal escape”.

The first standardised test to be published was probably the Coral Richards language test in the late 1960s, followed by the Renfrew Scales and the Reynell tests for children (which are still in use) and the Edinburgh Articulation Test. Assessment of grammar was enhanced by the Language Assessment, Remediation and Screening Procedure (LARSP) in 1978, although many participants struggled with this at first because, as one said of their course in the 1950s, “we did phonetics, but linguistics wasn’t part of our curriculum”.

Adult assessment continued to use American materials, including the Boston Diagnostic Aphasia Examination, with the ‘cookie theft’ picture being one element of the more detailed assessment.

People listed a range of therapy essentials. In the words of one participant, who qualified in the early 1950s, she had only “one of these little wicker baskets… and in it, a set of small hand mirrors and a package of straws”. Others mentioned “a bunch of keys to entertain kids” (or, more soberingly, “a bunch of keys to a locked hospital ward”), as well as ping pong balls for blowing exercises, popular games, reward stickers and specifically designed therapy tools.

There are still firm favourites that make a regular appearance in many clinics (Pop-up Pirate, anyone?), but technology has changed the way speech and language therapy is delivered, and people mentioned both old and new approaches. Older members of the profession recalled recording devices that were too heavy to carry, and ‘eye pointing picture charts’. In stammering work, the electronic metronome and Edinburgh Masker have given way to altered auditory feedback (AAF) phone apps, while tools such as electro-palatography now support articulation therapy, and augmentative and alternative communication has become increasingly sophisticated.

On the move

Many people noted the difficulty they had moving materials, therapists and patients around. Early qualified therapists spoke of a range of transport necessities:

  • “We used to walk everywhere, because we didn’t have a lot of money… we would walk from Buccleugh Place [in Edinburgh] over to the Royal Infirmary, and not always in ‘sensible’ shoes.”
  • “I couldn’t have afforded a car. When it was quite far away, like Kincardine, which was about the furthest point out from Dumfermline, I would go on my bike.”
  • “Half past seven in the morning I would catch a bus into Canterbury to catch another bus out of Canterbury to go to Folkestone or… the Margate area.”
  • “I travelled the length and breadth of Argyll, and I had to work out things like boat and ferry timetables.”

Many therapists worked across a wide range of clinics and spoke of their cars being their offices, complete with case notes and therapy materials. One participant reported that a school “hadn’t got a room for me to treat anybody in, so I packed two boys into the car, took them to [the next village] for the morning and treated them there. I did check the car insurance first.” Another recalled gaining a mobile clinic thanks to a Blue Peter television appeal.

“In the 1950s there were no British standardised speech and language therapy assessments…”

Tracing our roots

As we can see, things have changed! As part of the plans for the 75th anniversary of the RCSLT, we hope to be able to build upon this group of artefacts by collecting photos of items from each year of its existence, as examples of items that have had professional resonance for members.

If there is an object or artefact that says ‘speech and language therapy’ to you, especially from the earliest years of the RCSLT, be it a piece of equipment, a badge or a publication, then please get in touch with a picture and a brief explanation. Email: j.stansfield@mmu.ac.uk


1945 – 2020

The RCSLT is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020! We are excited to mark the occasion with a year of celebrating the past, present and future of the speech and language therapy profession.

We will be working on a range of resources and activities throughout 2020, including downloadable content, stories, competitions and social media campaigns. If you’re planning a 75th celebration in 2020, please let us know – we’d love to hear about it!

Stay tuned to the RCSLT website and social media feeds to find out more about what’s in store.



Themes for the year 2020

To mark our 75th anniversary, the RCSLT is launching a set of 12 creative themes – one for every month of the year – around which it will develop a suite of assets and resources to celebrate the profession and highlight the invaluable work of SLTs in supporting those with speech, language and communication needs, as well as swallowing disorders.

About the themes

The themes are designed to be broad and flexible so they can cover a range of issues and be interpreted in different ways when it comes to planning local member activity. The hope is that having a new theme each month will keep things fresh and interesting and enable members to start conversations with their MDT colleagues and members of the public from a range of different perspectives.

Below we’ve listed what the themes are and suggested some of the ways you might want to interpret them: in the events you plan, the conversations you start, the posters you make, the challenges you take on, and the noise you make on social media! We encourage diverse responses to the themes and will be on the look-out for the most imaginative to profile on RCSLT communication channels.

Connecting the profession’s past with its future will form a key aim of all our anniversary activity, as will profiling the breadth of the profession. Woven throughout the monthly themes will be some common elements: the service users we support, the MDT colleagues we work alongside, the clinical areas we cover, and the settings in which we practise (although some of these themes, given their importance, also get their own month in the spotlight too).

January: Firsts

To coincide with the first month of our anniversary year, we’ll be kick-starting our celebrations on the theme of ‘firsts’ by taking a look back at the history of the profession and highlighting some of its pioneers and major milestones. You might choose to look at firsts from a different perspective: when did you first know you wanted to be an SLT? Or, if yours is a paediatric caseload, maybe you want to look at ‘first words’ by highlighting on social media the importance of interaction and play in developing children’s communication skills.

February: Love

Speech and language therapy is a profession with care and compassion at its heart. In February, the month of love, we’ll be asking what SLTs love most about their job; what do service users love about their SLTs? And in this increasingly busy and demanding world of ours, how do we practise self-care? Wellbeing is important for individuals and teams: why not host an event for your MDT colleagues this month to let them know how much you value their support?

March: Women

As International Women’s Day falls on 8 March next year, we’ll be taking ‘women’ as our theme and celebrating a profession in which women comprise the vast majority. We’ll be revisiting Pam Enderby’s famous equal pay case and exploring gender equality more generally, asking how we can redress the gender imbalance in the profession and promote speech and language therapy as a career path for boys. Perhaps you’ll want to mark this month by getting in touch with a local school to see if you can give a talk there about what it’s like to be an SLT? Or maybe you want to use it to highlight an area under-represented in research such as girls and autism.

April: World of work

Speech and language therapy as a career can take so many different forms and cover so many clinical areas, with SLTs working everywhere from the NHS to independent practices, to early years settings, schools, and the justice sector. Many of you have portfolio careers and work in more than one place. What does the workplace look like for the modern SLT? How can the corporate world be better supported to help those with communication needs that it comes into contact with? Consider public awareness-raising initiatives this month to highlight whatever clinical field you excel in.

May: In the spotlight

‘What does a speech and language therapist do?’ is a question that so many SLTs get asked by friends, family and strangers alike. For May’s theme, we turn to the representations of speech and language therapy, and communication difficulties, as they have been portrayed on stage, on screen and in print. In doing so, we hope to take the opportunity to bust some myths about the profession, and shine a contemporary light on what SLTs really do. Maybe this month you want to organise a film screening for your MDT (The King’s Speech, anyone?) or write a poem (for inspiration, see Steph Burgess’ Speak Up For Communication at bit.ly/2SRq67V).

June: Service users

Speech and language therapy is all about transforming the lives of those with speech, language, communication and/or swallowing needs. This month, let us all collectively celebrate the service users who make our jobs worthwhile. We’ll be encouraging you to get your service users to post photos and videos of themselves on social media, to help normalise and demystify communication difficulties and disabilities. Alternatively, you might to use this month to raise awareness about the Communication Access UK symbol among your local businesses and service providers.

July: Diversity

SLTs work with service users from every background and every walk of life, at all different ages and stages. This month, let’s get together to celebrate diversity in the profession, and highlight the work we’re doing towards making the SLT community as diverse as the communities they serve. If you’re an SLT from an under-represented community, however you define that, then you could consider volunteering to help progress the RCSLT’s programme of work in this area, or hosting an event to raise awareness of the profession as a career choice for others within your community.

August: Around the world

The speech and language therapy profession looks different in every country around the world. This month, let’s embrace our ties to international colleagues and the global profession by celebrating the importance of communication worldwide. Let’s get SLTs around the world tweeting about our anniversary: #RCSLT75

September: Education and training

As SLTs we are always learning, developing and working towards improvements. This month we’ll be celebrating everything in the profession that is education-oriented, from our student SLTs, their lecturers and mentors, to the things we can learn from each other and the past. Got a piece of advice you want to pass down to future SLTs? Share it on social! Have you discovered some great new CPD resources that you want to share with colleagues? Or, if you’ve ever wanted to launch a journal club, maybe this is the month to do it.

October: Inspiration

Who inspires you? What inspires you? This month is an opportunity to shine a light on inspirational figures in speech and language therapy, from the leaders and innovators of the profession to the everyday heroes and service users that help to give your day meaning and to make your job so rewarding.

November: Science, research and innovation

Speech and language therapy practice has come so far in the past 75 years, and, thanks to developments in science and technology, and the work of our innovators, research professionals and academics in the field, there are some incredible cutting-edge developments that have us excited for the next phase of the profession. Maybe you’ll want to use this month to redouble your efforts in the field of improvement science or implementation science? Or maybe you want to organise an awareness-raising event with any service users you have who use AAC?

December: Future

December might mark the last month in our anniversary year, but for us it will be a time of looking forward: where do you see the profession heading in the next few years? What changes do you see want to see implemented that will make your professional body stronger? What plans do you have that will help you achieve your professional aims? Perhaps you’ll want to use this month to check out all the RCSLT’s resources on influencing to be the change you wish to see in the (speech and language therapy) world.

Good luck and keep us posted! #RCSLT75

Celebrate with us

Bulletin wants your help to celebrate the RCSLT’s 75th anniversary in print and online!

One of our key aims throughout the anniversary year will be to look at ways of connecting the profession’s past with its future.

How members can help

  • Share a piece of professional advice with us that’s stood you in good stead throughout your career. Perhaps it’s something you’d to say to your younger self, to remind you of why you became an SLT. What do you know now that you wished you’d known then?
  • Or maybe you want to look to the future and think about where you want to be, or the changes you want to see in the profession?
  • We’d also love you to send in your photographs. We’d love you to take a snapshot of the profession that’s illustrative of now. What aspect of the profession do you want to present to future SLTs? What technology, device or intervention do you want to showcase and tell them: ‘I did this’?
  • Bulletin is also on the look-out for your 75th anniversary celebrations for our news section – tell us how your service is planning to raise awareness of speech and language therapy and those the profession helps to support.

Tweet @rcslt_bulletin with your contributions or email us with ‘RCSLT 75th anniversary’ in the subject header and we’ll publish a selection in Bulletin over the course of next year.

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