Why we need a renewed focus on children’s early years

Reading is the key to a child’s future. It unlocks their potential and opens up a world filled with possibilities.

And for our poorest children, reading well is vital in helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds to chart a route out of poverty. Reading well helps children do better at school and after that in the workplace. And then, when they become parents themselves, it enables them to give their own children the best start in life.

However, one in five children (22%) in England isn’t reading well by the time they finish primary school at age 11. That figure rises to one in three children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds – a shockingly high proportion.

Start young

That’s why Save the Children is investing in programmes to support children’s reading and learning, alongside our role in Read On. Get On., a national campaign with a mission to ensure that by 2025 every child is a confident reader by age 11.

All the evidence points to the fact that we need to start early. Children begin developing language skills in their first months and years of life. The support they get early on can mean the difference between having a strong start and falling behind before they arrive for their first day of school. It’s vital that this support is provided to the children in greatest need.

That early support needs to be sustained through a child’s life. Support for children with additional needs – those who are at risk of falling behind – is a critical part of making sure that all children are given a fair start in life.

School support

That’s why Save the Children runs programmes like Born to Read, helping make a difference for our poorest children. Working in partnership with Beanstalk, we recruit, train and place volunteers in primary schools across England giving a child one to one support for one hour every week.

Volunteers build up children’s confidence as well as their reading skills which in turn can offer long-term, far-reaching benefits.

93% of these children have made progress in their reading attainment. 74% have progressed by at least two sub-levels after three terms of support. And schools overwhelmingly agree that these reading helpers make a significant impact on the children they support.

Devenice’s story

The statistics set out the impact programmes like Born to Read can have. But behind the numbers are stories of children whose lives are being changed. Children like Devenice.

“Reading for me was kind of hard before I met Sara,” said Devenice. “I was really struggling.

“It made a difference when I was with Miss, because she helped me understand a lot of new words. She also helped me try out different books.

“Now reading makes me feel happy. When it’s time for us to go I don’t want it to stop.

“In class I can still feel Miss there with me reading. I don’t mean that in a weird way, but I can still feel her reading with me even though I’m by myself.

“It makes me feel happy that I can carry on reading by myself, and can help myself by breaking down words I don’t understand.”

Vital early years

There will always be children like Devenice, and support from programmes like Born to Read will always be needed. But we also need to think much more about the difference that can be made in those vital early years when children are learning to communicate and interpret the world around them.

As we look to the spending review on 25 November, Read On. Get On. is calling for the government to prioritise investment in our nation’s children through high-quality nursery education. That’s vital to help young children develop the core language skills they need. The skills that are the foundation stones of learning.

Too many of our children aren’t getting the support they need – and it’s the poorest who suffer most, starting school already 15 months behind. A renewed focus on a child’s early years, making sure we provide the support that is needed, is vital to boosting standards and giving all children the best start they deserve.

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