Wales’s poorest children are starting primary school already struggling with language skills argues Ready to Read, a new report out today (22 September 2015).
Professor Chris Taylor, Co-Director of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research Data (WISERD), at Cardiff University, has advised the Read On.Get On. campaign, which is calling for the Welsh Government to increase investment in the early years workforce and support for parents in their child’s early years.
One in four children growing up in poverty in Wales leaves primary school unable to read well, and this gap begins in the early years.
Poverty affects children’s learning in different ways. Struggling on a low income creates stress and anxiety which can make it harder for parents to engage with their children’s learning. A low income can limit the material resources available to support child’s early learning. This helps explain the persistent educational gap in Wales that each year, prevents thousands of our poorest children fulfilling their potential.
New analysis from the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) shows children in Wales who live in persistent poverty are twice as likely to score below average in vocabulary scores at age 5 as their better off peers, and that these patterns persist as children grow up. The analysis has found that children living in poverty who had poor language skills at age 5 are much more likely to still be behind at age 11 than their better off peers.
Children who read well by 11 do better at school, get better exam results and do better in the workplace.
Professor Taylor became involved in the report following his own previous MCS analysis conducted for WISERD with Professor Gareth Rees and Rhys Davies: Devolution and geographies of education: the use of the Millennium Cohort Study for ‘home international’ comparisons across the UK, Comparative Education (2013). Save the Children approached Professor Taylor to provide expert guidance and analysis on the initiative.
Professor Taylor said: “There is very clear evidence that poverty and deprivation continue to impact on children’s ability to read well. When parents are struggling to find work, or take on additional work just to pay their rent, the attention that children need in the first few years of their lives can often be overlooked.
“Trying to establish some kind of routine, such as family meal times or regular bedtimes, provides a great opportunity to develop a child’s language and literacy skills through conversations and sharing books. But we must also not forget that some parents lack the confidence to support their children in this. The Read On. Get On. campaign will help provide the most vulnerable families and their children with the support that they need.”
The Ready to Read report shows how good quality support for children and parents in the early years for example access to an early language expert can help improve language skills and ensure children start school ready and able to learn.
The report welcomes recent initiatives in Wales yet calls on the Welsh Government to strengthen the quality of the early education workforce by ensuring all staff and parents have access to an early language expert by 2020.
The evidence is clear that having an expert with graduate level qualifications in early years settings can have a measureable impact on children’s language development. Boosting children’s early language skills is critical to narrowing the attainment gap and improving the life chances of our poorest children.
The Read On. Get On. campaign is a coalition of national literacy and communication organisations, charities, libraries, teaching unions and publishing agencies including Save the Children. The coalition has set a goal to get every child reading well by age 11 in 2025. The coalition has also set an interim goal to ensure every child in Wales has good language skills by the time they start school by 2020.
Mary Powell-Chandler, Head of Save the Children-Wales, said: “If we are to build a strong, successful Wales then it is vital all children have the best possible start in life, regardless of their background. We know early language is a crucial stepping stone to literacy and that children with good language ability at age five are more likely to have both higher qualifications and to be in employment in adulthood compared to their peers.”
Alison Williams, from the Royal College of Speech and Language therapists said: “Early support for families and practitioners to foster communication and language rich environments is fundamental to improving children’s early speech, language and communication development and later educational outcomes.
Babies are born with brains that have huge capacity for learning. From birth to 18 months, connections in the brain are created at a rate of one million per second. Neuroscience has shown that the circuits or ‘wiring’ of the brain is strongly affected by the quality of attachment and the kind of stimulation a baby receives. These earliest experiences shape a baby’s brain development, and have a lifelong impact on the baby’s development.
The early years must be the focus for parents, government and other agencies to ensure best possible speech, language and communication outcomes for children.”
Anni Llŷn, Welsh Children’s Poet Laureate, who provided the Foreword for the report said: “‘Reading’ is more than looking at a word and being able to say it or write it. Reading means to “understand” and ‘interpret’. If we do not encourage our children to strive to understand and interpret the world around them from a young age, then we are limiting their future.”