Ready to Read: closing the gap in early language skills in the UK

Regan reading at home with his dad, Damien
Regan reading at home with his dad, Damien (Photo: Elizabeth Dalziel/Save the Children)

Today the Read On. Get On. Campaign is calling for an increased focus on the early years to ensure that all children have good language skills by the time they start school.

Good early language skills are a crucial step towards reading well

The early years are the golden years for ensuring all children can read well by 11. The extent to which young children living in poverty are struggling with early language is significant and has a knock-on impact on their literacy levels in primary school. But the good news is there’s lots of evidence to tell us what works to drive good language skills.

The challenge we face exists across the UK. But how we tackle it will look different. This is a devolved area of policy and requires specific approaches in each nation.

We believe there’s a clear role for governments across the UK and local services to boost early language skills for our poorest children to improve literacy and close attainment gaps.

Today, we publish the first two reports in our Ready to Read series highlighting the extent of the issue in England and Scotland and our priorities for action. The Northern Ireland and Wales reports will be published later in the summer.

Too many children are falling behind in language skills in England and Scotland

Our aim in the Read On. Get On. campaign is to ensure that all children are able to read well by age 11. We know that good early language skills are a critical first step towards reading well. That’s why our interim goal is to ensure that all children are able to achieve a good level of language development by age five.

But new evidence in the two reports sets out the scale of the challenge for achieving our interim goal:

  • In England one child in four isn’t meeting the expected level at age five, a figure which rises to one in three of the poorest children
  • In Scotland children living in poverty  are twice as likely to  experience early language difficulties at ages three and five.

Read Ready to Read – England and Ready to Read – Scotland

Investing in the early years and improving support services for parents is crucial if we’re going to achieve our goal

If we’re to meet the challenge of so many children falling behind, much more needs to be done to support children’s early language development

We know that parents play the most important role in a child’s development, which is why we’re separately working with a wide range of partners to support parents with their children’s language development.

In the reports our focus is on what government can do to help support children’s language development. One of the areas we focus on is early education because we know from the evidence that the having the best quality nurseries is a clear way to improve outcomes of children who are struggling. This is delivered in different ways in England and Scotland.

In England we’re calling on the UK government to ensure that every nursery has a graduate level staff. We’re also calling on the government to ensure that every nursery has a member of staff with a relevant level 3 qualification in language development, to help support and nurture children’s language development.

In Scotland we propose that every early learning and childcare setting has at least one member of staff with an appropriate graduate qualification in early language or literacy. We’re also calling on the Scottish government to consider how the free (600) hours could strengthen support for parents as well as children and make early literacy a focus of inspections.

We’re also calling on both governments to strengthen existing health and education support services for parents and to improve the way we track young children’s progress to help ensure that we can identify problems early.

Meeting our goal of all children reading well by age 11

We’re committed to achieving our goal of all children reading well by age 11. The reports show that a key step to this is ensuring that all children have a good level of language development at age five.

Developing good language skills in the early years can set the foundations for children to read well and get on in school. It’s crucial that both governments do more to invest and support the early years to ensure that all children get the best start in life.

 

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Comments

  • Sue Palmer

    Has it occurred to anyone that the problem may be related to the early school starting age in UK countries? The western nations that are currently highest in the international educational league-table (OECD, 2015) are Finland, Estonia and Switzerland. All of them start formal education at seven. Before that children attend play-based, developmentally-appropriate kindergartens, where the emphasis is on supporting children’s social, emotional and language development.

    There’s also international research showing that early formal teaching of the three Rs doesn’t have any long-term advantages (Suggate, 2009) but does have considerable disadvantages in terms of social and emotional development (e,g Friedman 2011; Paige, Bywater and Almon 2013; Katz 2015). For obvious reasons, these disadvantages impact most severely on children who are already disadvantaged by reason of home background.

    As a literacy specialist, I’m in total agreement with the recommendations in Ready to Read, but as long as we assume that children must be ‘ready’ for formal teaching at the age of five, I don’t think there’s the slightest chance of ensuring they’re all ‘good readers’ by 11.