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Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss’ speech at Policy Exchange – reflections from Virginia Beardshaw I CAN CEO

All of us interested in early language development who listened to Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss’ speech at Policy Exchange on Monday morning came away with a smile on our faces and a spring in our step.

The Minister began her speech by saying that her answer when asked ‘what does success in the early years look like?’ in a cross governmental meeting was that there should be no gap in the vocabulary of children on low income families and their high income counterparts on starting school.

Currently the gap is 18 months. Huge.

The Minister’s speech was laced with references to child language development as a cornerstone of success in early years education, making it clear both that she shared HMCI Sir Michael Wilshaw’s ambition to tackle attainment gaps through early education and, like him,  saw  speech and language as key to progress.

At I CAN we know very well that children with good Early Years Foundation Stage scores on Communication, Language and Literacy are the highest achieving at KS1 and in year 3 in both literacy and mathematics.. Their understanding and use of language at the age of two years predicts how well they perform on school entry assessments including reading, maths and writing.

I CAN’s Department for Education-funded Early Language Development Programme offers a universal approach to support young children’s language development. Early evidence is showing good impacts on practitioner confidence and on practice change in children’s centres.

But there is much more to do, since surveys of the children’s workforce persistently show that early years practitioners remain under-confident when it comes to supporting young children’s speech and language. They are also often unclear about how to encourage parents to play their part in communication development and about what to do if a child seems to be falling behind.

But concentrated workforce development can fix this, and children and their families will benefit. On Monday it was great to see the Minister for Childcare unite with Ofsted to send a concerted message about tackling inequalities to a sector that has all too often felt fragmented and lacking a common purpose.

That common purpose is now clear: we need to get on and work together to narrow that gap. And language is the way to do it.