Speech and language therapist

Speech and language therapists work with people who have difficulties with speech, language and communication and/or are experiencing swallowing, eating and drinking problems.

Speech and language therapists are qualified health professionals, who must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). They assess, treat and support people of all ages. They work closely with other health and education practitioners such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, medical staff and teachers.


My name's Claire Campbell and I'm a speech and language therapist.

We work with people who have difficulties with communication and with their swallowing.

They can often be struggling, you know, their mood can be really low because, for a lot of people, their life has changed so dramatically, so quickly, with no warning. Often, it's a very difficult time for them and their families. So, we're trying to support them, but also take into account everything else that's going on in their life as well.

Patients are most typically referred to us by nursing staff or medical staff on the wards, who notice that something has altered, that the person isn't communicating as they normally would, or they're having difficulties with swallowing.

We would do an assessment of their swallowing, which would involve a bit of discussion as to what they think the problem is. We would look at how all of the muscles in their mouth are working and we would give them small amounts of diet and fluid and palpate their swallow, feel their swallow, to see how we feel the muscles are working.

We would observe them, we would look at their breathing and how they're managing to produce voice afterwards. That would tell us whether their swallow is safe or whether there might be something going down towards their lungs. We can feel that a lot of the time by looking at somebody and feeling their swallow.

When I was 16, my mum told me a should be a speech and language therapist. I didn't listen to my mum, because I was 16, and I studied psychology. I had a job working with young children. I supported children with behavioural difficulties. I worked as a nursing assistant for a time, which made me realise how much I enjoyed the hospital environment.

I shadowed a speech and language therapist who I'd met at work because I thought that her job sounded interesting. That's how I decided, how I knew I wanted to be a speech and language therapist.

The Role(s)

In NHSScotland, speech and language therapists work with clients in a range of very different settings, such as hospitals, health centres, day-care centres, rehabilitation units, schools, young offenders units, and prisons or at home.

As a speech and language therapist, you would work with individuals who are experiencing difficulties for a range of reasons. For example as a result of:

  • a developmental delay
  • learning disability
  • autism
  • brain injury, stroke, Parkinson’s disease or dementia
  • cancer of the mouth and throat
  • a stammer
  • hearing loss

Your responsibilities will vary depending on the client you are working with. Some typical tasks of a speech and language therapist include:

  • assessing developmental speech and communication difficulties in babies and children
  • creating and implementing therapy programmes and working together with clients to monitor progress
  • supporting individuals and carers and family members to use alternative forms of communication
  • training other professionals to deliver communication support
  • assessing swallowing ability
  • working with clients individually or in groups
  • writing client reports
  • supervising and training speech and language therapy support workers

Skills, Interests and Abilities

To become a speech and language therapist, useful skills include:

  • strong communication skills
  • teamworking skills
  • committed to the wellbeing of clients
  • professional with an excellent work ethic
  • patience and tact

Useful abilities include:

  • flexibility and the ability to adapt to developments in working practices
  • the ability to work under pressure
  • the ability to reassure and motivate people

Entry Requirements

To practice as a speech and language therapist (SLT) in NHSScotland, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). You will need to study an approved pre-registration programme, which can take three or four years full-time. Courses differ but all involve a lot of practical work with patients.

In Scotland the following universities offer undergraduate programmes in speech and language therapy:

The minimum academic entry requirements for these degree courses vary, but most universities in Scotland require SQA Higher AABBB grades, including English and science subjects, such as Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Maths. A pass in SQA National 5 grade A - C is also required if these subjects are not achieved at SQA Higher grade.

Wherever you study, when you apply you will need to show an understanding of speech and language therapy and if possible some knowledge about the types of people you might be working with.  It is a good idea to spend some time with a registered SLT to see what the work is like or volunteer with an organisation working with people with communication support needs. While studying, you will also be able to join the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT).

Entry requirements vary depending on the university, college or provider. Specific entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, are provided on each university website.

To apply for a speech and language therapy programme, you must use the UCAS application process.

You can visit the HCPC website for a full list of approved speech and language therapy programmes across the UK.

Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) – Access to Health & Life Sciences (SCQF Level 6) or Access to Allied Health: Specialised Programmes (SCQF Level 6)

These programmes are for adults returning to education, perhaps changing career or seeking to gain the equivalent university entry qualifications needed for a speech and language therapy undergraduate programme. There are no formal entry qualifications, but applicants should have a good standard of general education and have been away from formal education for a minimum of 2 – 3 years.

Successful completion of the course could lead to:

  • A degree in speech and language therapy by applying to universities that participate in the SWAP partnership programme
  • HNC Applied Sciences

Please visit the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) website for more information.

Postgraduate study

If you already have a relevant degree and healthcare experience, you can take a postgraduate diploma or masters in speech and language therapy. These courses usually take two years. The HCPC website provides details of approved postgraduate programmes in the UK.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme

You will require a satisfactory (PVG) check to show that you are suitable to work as a speech and language therapist. This scheme is managed by Disclosure Scotland.

Learning and Development

After graduation, you’ll be able to register with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) helps qualified SLTs keep up to date with the latest research. During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with Continuing Professional Development (CPD). The RCSLT provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.

In NHSScotland, speech and language therapists start on band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) pay system, with increasing experience therapists can move up through the bands to 8.

Once qualified you may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as stroke, cleft palate or learning disabilities. Later, other options include teaching or research.

You could also move into management, either within speech and language therapy services or general management. As head of a speech and language therapy service you would be responsible for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

Professional bodies

Find out more information from these professional bodies:

Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological, and in England; social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education. Visit the HCPC website to find out more.


Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT)

The RCSLT is the professional body for speech and language therapists in the UK, which provides leadership and sets professional standards. It promotes research, better education and training of speech and language therapists. It also provides information to the public about speech and language therapy. Find out more on the RCSLT website.