Education secretary Damien Hinds launches campaign highlighting importance of early-years learning for social mobility

Poorer children in half of areas across England falling further behind peers for communication skills

‘A lack of support for childcare quality is letting poverty dictate children’s chances’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
@Eleanor_Busby
Tuesday 18 December 2018 01:21
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Poorer children in half of areas across England are falling further behind their classmates in vital communication skills during the first year of primary school, new analysis finds.

The “early learning gap” between children from low income families and their better-off peers has widened in 76 out of 152 local authorities in England, a report from charity Save the Children says.

Poorer children starting primary school in these areas are being left further behind their classmates in skills – such as speaking in full sentences, following simple instructions and expressing themselves.

The charity’s analysis, of government statistics showing the number of children reaching expected levels of development in key areas, reveals that progress in closing the early learning gap has also stalled in 22 local authorities.

The largest early learning gap is found in West Berkshire, where disadvantaged five-year-olds are 33 percentage points more likely than their classmates to have fallen behind.

But regionally, the biggest gap is found in the southwest, at 22 percentage points – which is twice the difference in top performing London, where it is 11 percentage points.

Across the country, more than two in five of all poor children are struggling with basic skills at age five, compared to just over a quarter of their better-off classmates – a gap of 17 percentage points.

Steven McIntosh, director of UK policy, advocacy and campaign for Save the Children, said: “A lack of support for childcare quality in England is still letting poverty dictate children’s chances.

“Not only that, but the gulf between children in poverty and their peers is widening in many places.

“Children who start school without the tools to learn find it incredibly difficult to catch up, which risks further locking children into poverty in the future.”

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The latest statistics from the Department for Education (DfE) show that 27.6 per cent of four and five-year-olds lacked the early communication skills – such as being able to talk about events in the past or future – expected by the end of reception year. This is a slight rise on the year before.

Earlier this year, education secretary Damian Hinds pledged to halve the number of pupils starting school behind in talking and reading skills by 2028.

The minister launched a coalition of businesses, charities, tech and media groups to encourage more parents to read and learn new words with their children.

It came after a study earlier this year found that nearly half of five and six-year-olds are at risk of underperforming because they have a limited vocabulary.

Since then, the DfE announced that parents would be given advice on how to sing nursery rhymes, teach the alphabet and a range of other activities they can do with children before they start school, in a bid to close the “word gap” between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

Mr McIntosh added: “The government has made welcome commitments to close the early learning gap. But they are ignoring an early years staffing crisis that will continue to undermine children’s potential – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“There is a national shortage of graduate early years teachers who are specifically trained to help children who are falling behind.”

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