Early language development: time to change the story

Early language development helps shape children's futures.
Early language development helps shape children’s futures.

Guest contributor Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive at I CAN, the children’s communication charity, discusses the impact early lessons can have on young children.

Save the Children’s Read On. Get On campaign report on early language development has made us ask yet again: when are we going to finally change the story for children?

The report shows that very young children continue to struggle due to poor language development.

At I CAN we’ve been campaigning for years about the need to reverse this trend and provide children with the support to develop good language skills in their early years.

Why? Because the evidence clearly shows the crucial role that language and communication play in children’s academic performance and wider human development.

Lasting impact

The report demonstrates a clear link between children’s early language development and their attainment throughout primary school in English and Maths.

A significant number of children – as many as 25% in deprived areas – start school without the early language skills they need to learn. 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 skills at five years old are about six times less likely to reach the expected standard in English. They are also about 11 times less likely to reach the expected standard in Maths at age 11.

It’s new and compelling evidence which shows how early language development underpins later academic success.

Significantly, even when researchers took into account things like parental education and poverty, the most important factor in reaching the expected levels in English and maths at seven years old was children’s language skills at age five.

The relationship is clear: children starting school with poor language skills are immediately disadvantaged as they do not have the tools that they need for the next stage of learning.

Without core skills in speech, language and communication, these young children won’t be ready for school, they’ll struggle to make friends and to develop their self esteem.

Time to prioritise

That’s why we so strongly support the Read On. Get On. goal of making sure all children possess good early language skills by the age of five by 2020. We must do everything we can to give children in the early years the chance to develop the language and communication skills they need.

If we don’t work together to achieve this goal, too many children will continue to struggle at primary school and go on to leave school without the essential building blocks of learning.

At I CAN, we’ve long campaigned for language skills to be recognised and prioritised.

We believe every member of the early years’ workforce must gain an understanding of the importance of children’s early language development and be equipped with the skills to support it.

We know that it works.  I CAN’s interventions show that investment in evidenced language programmes, delivered by trained staff, can make a huge difference to children.

Good quality support

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 three and four year olds experiencing language delay.

Philip Armstrong, centre manager at Ambleside said, “We believe that it’s crucial 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.

Sign Save the Children’s petition asking the government to invest in nurseries.

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  • Please remember that the issue is much wider than having qualified teachers in childcare. Those teachers need to have good interaction skills with very young children. We invest heavily in our teachers and other early years practitioners by providing them with video coaching on their interactions with children by qualified speech and language therapists. We have good research evidence for the effectiveness of this approach.

    Additionally we know how important the home learning environment is and we provide information, advice, training,coaching and resources for parents to help build their confidence in their children’s language development. Again we have good research evidence for this approach and we know that parents are the first and most enduring educators of children.

    Please remember the picture is much more complex than just having qualified teachers in childcare. Better speech and language therapy support to train and build confidence and effectiveness in the workforce ( including parents) is a very cost effective way to address this issue as we have proved through Nottinghamshire’s Language for Life strategy, utilising a small number of children’s centre SLTs and Home Talk workers to build community capacity in supporting children’s language development. We have a good evidenced based model – please consider it for application more widely.

  • Hello Jane,

    Thanks for getting in touch. We agree that more investment in the early years is vital and in the importance of the home learning environment – children are learning from the people and places around them from birth and ensuring that they have the best possible start in life before school is crucial.


  • What happened? The child watched TV, but he did not learn to speak. Communication is a two-way process that needs to be experienced.