Noisy home lives make children slow at school

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The Independent Online

Children are starting nursery school unable to speak and listen properly because of chaotic and noisy home lives, according to an Ofsted report released today.

The education watchdog, which looked at how the best schools teach children to read, found televisions in constant use, noisy siblings and raised voices at home were impeding children’s language skills.

The majority of schools with nursery classes visited by Ofsted reported that children are, increasingly, unprepared for learning, having poor listening and speaking skills. Some arrive without toilet training and using dummies.

The report states: "The schools attributed weak listening skills not only to poor conversation in the home but, very often, also to continuous background noise, such as constant television, the noise of siblings and raised voices, which are bound to dull sensitivity to the nuances of sounds."

The study reveals, in some cases, children’s speech is limited to basic statements such as, “Me want…”. Many youngsters have also “been no further from home than the nearest shopping centre”.

As a result, nursery classes focus on speaking, listening, increasing vocabulary and using sentences. They introduced structured days “to compensate for the chaotic home lives that too many of the children were experiencing”.

The report, ‘Reading by Six. How the best schools do it’, examines the work of 12 outstanding primaries in England. It says the best schools use a “step by step” approach to teach reading, writing and spelling through phonics, which teaches the connections between sounds and letters.

The report finds phonics helps every child to read well, but only when taught rigorously and consistently.

Nationally, one in five 11-year-olds leaves primary school without reaching the expected standards for reading and writing. However, the study says the best primaries ensure virtually all their children learn to read, regardless of their social and economic background, ethnicity, the language spoken at home, special needs and disability.

Oftsted says research shows the critical age when children learn to become good readers and writers is between three and seven. The best schools are consistent in giving pupils opportunities to talk, listen and build their vocabulary.

The Department for Education is planning a reading test for six-year-olds.

Christine Gilbert, Ofsted chief inspector, said: "Despite some major initiatives in recent years to raise standards in reading and writing, the levels achieved by many children at the end of primary school fall stubbornly short of what is achievable."

She added: "These 12 schools are not a rarefied elite, the challenge is for all schools to match their achievements. If schools set their minds and practice to it, they can teach virtually every child to read."

Nansi Ellis, head of education policy at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: "The danger of this report is that it encourages policy-makers and teachers to focus on the building blocks of language and forget the wider learning involved in reading and other basic social, interpersonal and physical skills which are equally important.

"Learning to read involves more than just making sense of sounds and letters, it also involves enjoying books, responding imaginatively to stories, and learning how to use text-based information.”

Nursery story: Case study

A nursery teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said television and a lack of conversations at home caused language problems among the three and four-year-olds at her primary school in a deprived area of east London.

“What we do before the children start nursery is we go and home visit them. This year, we visited 28 homes and I’d say there were very few where the telly wasn’t on. They knew we were coming at that time but the majority of the children were glued to the telly, at CBeebies or something else…

“I must say this year I notice it, especially when we serve them dinner, they can’t say the thing… They just point at things and expect to get it…

“I think it’s what’s happening because it’s easier to put the children in front of the telly. It’s not enough quality time, telling bedtime stories. I can see there are some children, especially with families whose parents are educated, they don’t have these problems and I think it’s because parents speak to them.”