Lockdowns hurt child speech and language skills – report

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There is growing evidence that the past year of lockdowns has had an impact on young children’s language skills, according to research.

Data from 50,000 pupils and a survey of schools across England have shown an increased number of four- and five-year-olds needing help with language.

Evidence shows poor speech development can have long-term effects on learning.

The government says it is investing £18m in early-years catch-up, including extra help for those in Reception year.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) research suggests the measures taken to combat the pandemic have deprived the youngest children of social contact and experiences essential for increasing vocabulary.

Less or no contact with grandparents, social distancing, no play dates, and the wearing of face coverings in public have left children less exposed to conversations and everyday experiences.

Of 58 primary schools surveyed across England:

76% said pupils starting school in September 2020 needed more support with communication than in previous years
96% they were concerned about pupils’ speech-and-language development.
And 56% of parents were concerned about their child starting at school following the lockdown in the spring and summer.

Starting school
Niamh, in Reception at Ryders Hayes Primary School, in Walsall, is slowly building her confidence with words.

Like many children, her life has been limited by the pandemic, her social circle shrinking to her immediate family. And this left her mother, Lisa, anxious about her starting school.

“She was one of the youngest in the year and it worried me that other children had got more school experience with nursery or pre-school,” Lisa said.

“We tried to prepare her as well as we could. She was looking forward to it – but she didn’t know any of the children in the class, so we were a bit worried about that.

“My concern was, after being locked down all of the summer and not going out to play with her friends, how was she going to respond to a room full of new children and new teachers?”

But the school’s approach had worked well. “We never had a tearful morning – we never had a day where she didn’t want to come to school,” Lisa said.


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