Read On Get On

The crucial role of early language for learning: let’s change the story – a blog from Bob Reitemeier, I CAN’s Chief Executive

We welcome the recent report on early language development published by Save the Children as part of the Read On. Get On. Campaign. It makes us ask yet again, when are we going to finally change the story it presents? The report shows how very young children continue to struggle as a result of poor language development. At I CAN we have long campaigned about the need to reverse this trend and provide the support necessary to develop good language skills in the early years. Why? Because the evidence clearly shows the crucial role that language and communication play in the success of children’s academic performance and wider human development.

The shocking findings demonstrate a clear link between children’s early language development and their attainment throughout primary school in English and maths. A significant number of children start school without the early language skills they need for learning – as many as a quarter of children in areas of deprivation. This report now confirms the lasting impact of poor language skills at an early age on later academic success. Crucially, they show that children with poor language at age five are about six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English and about 11 times less likely to reach the expected standard in maths at age 11. The report therefore provides us with new and compelling evidence on how early language development underpins and influences later academic success.

Significantly, even when researchers controlled for factors such as parental education and poverty, the most important factor in reaching the expected levels in English and maths at seven was children’s language skills at age five. The central role of early language development and subsequent impact of poor language skills are clear: children starting school with poor language are immediately disadvantaged as they do not have the skills that they need for the next stage of learning. Without core skills in speech, language and communication young children will not be ready for school, will struggle to make friends and to develop their self esteem.

That is why we so strongly support the Read On. Get On. goal of all children having good early language skills by the age of five by 2020. We must do all we can to enable children in the early years to develop the language and communication skills they need. If we don’t work together to achieve this goal children will continue to struggle at primary school and will leave school without the essential building blocks of learning.

I CAN have long campaigned for language skills to be recognised and prioritised. We support the call from Save the Children for investment in good quality early years services and support for parents. We believe the greatest impact will result from every member of the early years’ workforce gaining an understanding of the importance of children’s early language development and be equipped with the skills to support it.

And we know this works. I CAN’s interventions show that investment in evidenced language programmes, delivered by trained staff, can make a huge difference to children’s outcomes. Our Early Talk Boost programme can double the rate of progress in early language development. In Wokingham and Reading, children’s centres, nurseries and schools have pooled their Early Years Pupil Premium (EYPP) budgets to invest in staff training. One example of this is the Ambleside Children’s centre, which coordinated the training of I CAN’s Early Talk Boost – a nine week intervention for 3-4 year olds experiencing language delay. Philip Armstrong, centre manager at Ambleside said, ‘On their own many settings would not have accessed the training. We believe that it is crucial that children are provided with high quality support to develop their communication skills in the Early Years. Early Talk Boost has complemented the existing support we provide and provided a further opportunity to work in partnership with parents around their child’s learning and development.’

Taking action now is essential. We need a skilled, knowledgeable and confident workforce, using evidenced interventions and solutions. This will help to change the story for our children, giving them the language skills they need for life.

Bob Reitemeier

Chief Executive

I CAN, the children’s communication charity.