Read On Get On

Ready To Read: Blog from Virginia Beardshaw I CAN CEO

For everyone interested in children’s language and its vital link to life chances, today sees the publication of a really important report from the Read On. Get On. coalition of which I CAN is a founder member.

Ready to Read:  Closing the gap in early language skills so that every child can read well demonstrates that a third of children growing up in poverty are arriving at school without the language skills they need to learn and to read. Disadvantaged children lag 15 months behind their peers by the age of five.

This means they struggle to learn to read and their progress at school can be stunted.

In a very real sense, for these children, language equals life chances.

Boys fare worst: just under one in three boys (29%) are not reaching the expected standard of language development at age 5, rising to more than two in five boys from low income families  (42%).

New analysis done for the report demonstrates:

  • Currently one in four young children are not reaching the expected level of language development, rising to one in three (33%) of our poorest children.
  • Sadly, children growing up in poverty who are performing well at age 3 are much more likely than their wealthier peers to fall behind in language by age five – especially those who experience persistent poverty.
  • And, discouragingly, this new analysis also shows that it is harder for children from low income families who start off with delayed language development to change than it is for children from better off backgrounds.
  • Just as bad, if you live in poverty and start off doing well at age 5, you are likely to fall behind by age 7, ending up behind less bright but better off children.

Ready to Read also gives us new evidence on the link between early language and reading. A child’s ability with vocabulary is strongly associated with their reading ability at age seven.

I CAN has campaigned for years about the importance of early language development to children’s ability to read and to their wider life chances.

But these new statistics on early language delay amongst  children growing up in poverty are deeply shocking, even to us. They need urgent attention.

Because together we can do something about the language levels of our littlest children.

The point is that children are hardwired to learn language. All children, whatever their background and difficulties, can improve, given the right support and environment.  What this report is telling us is that we need to make sure this happens as early as possible.

Children learn to talk through interaction. But we know that many parents don’t know this, because nobody tells them. They  are also often unaware of how important language is to their child’s chances in life. They need more information, help and support to help their child’s language develop.

The importance of talking with children is why everyone who works with them and their families must be trained to do everything in their power to support our littlest children to develop the language skills they need  to get on in life.  Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, early years staff – everyone.   

Children’s language and communication must become everyone’s business, so we can improve children’s life chances right from the start.

If we don’t, the price in terms of wasted potential is quite simply far too high.

There is no hope of reaching the government’s properly ambitious targets for school achievement if our little children continue to struggle with this basic life skill, and arrive at school unready to read and learn. Ready to Read shows with crystal clarity that the government’s commitments to increase childcare places need to be matched by a commitment to quality – quality that has an early years workforce geared up to support children’s language development at its core.

Only then will we be doing all we can to get our littlest children ready to read.