For literacy it pays to start early

Guest blogger: Jerome Finnegan.

The Read On. Get On. coalition is working towards the ambitious goal of all children in England attaining a good level of reading by age 11, by 2025. Two new reports released by the campaign, for England and Scotland, featuring new analysis by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE), highlight the critical relationship between children’s early language development and later reading and comprehension skills. So much so that the campaign has adopted an interim goal: ensuring that all children achieve a good level of language development by age five.

Central to the reports is analysis of Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) data by Emla Fitzsimons and Samantha Parsons at the IOE. The MCS is following 19,000 children born in 2000, providing rich data on children’s development. The analysis draws on a test of these children’s vocabulary as a measure of their language ability at age five. It then assesses the strength of the association between their language ability with their scores in later tests of reading and comprehension at ages seven and 11.

What this shows very clearly is that children’s language ability at age five is strongly associated with their reading and comprehension skills later on. Crucially, it also shows the particular effect of experiencing poverty on children’s language development: when comparing two children in England who had below average scores at five, a child who experienced poverty persistently throughout their early childhood scored on average 14% lower on the reading test at age seven and 7% lower on the verbal similarities test at age 11.

These findings are important, because there are well researched ways of supporting children’s early language development.

We know from the evidence that high quality childcare can provide significant benefits to children’s development, which is why in both England and Scotland the campaign calls on the government to increase investment in the early years workforce. They argue that every childcare setting should have a graduate present and at least one member of staff with a level 3 qualification in early language development by 2020.

The campaign also argues that the government should do more to support parents through existing early years services, including a renewed investment in early years professionals, an increased emphasis on early language development, and the creation of an early years minister to help health and education professionals work together. Finally, with the coming changes to the ways children are assessed, they also call on the government to review how it will continue to collect comparable data in the context of these changes.

Jerome Finnegan is Policy Officer at Save the Children UK.

A longer version of this blog was first published by Save the Children here.

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Posted in Childhood & early education

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