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Major study to assess impact of poor language skills on pupils' progress at school

Posted on 30/01/2012

With many children struggling to keep up with the curriculum because of poor language skills when they start school, the first study of its kind in the UK is being launched today (Monday 30 January) to assess the impact of this on pupils’ academic and social success.

Researchers from Royal Holloway, University of London, aim to find out why language difficulties develop and the impact language delay can have on children’s developmental progress.

Research shows around 7% of children start school with language delay and cannot construct proper sentences.

The academics will be working with Surrey County Council's schools to screen the language skills of all children who started school in the county this academic year. A smaller cohort of 500 children will then be assessed in detail over the next three years. The launch event will be held at a reception hosted by John Bercow MP at the House of Commons.

Dr Courtenay Norbury, Head of the Literacy, Language and Communication Laboratory at Royal Holloway, who is leading the study says: “Language problems can hinder children’s ability to read and write and there are strong links between poor language skills and a variety of problems later in life, including behavioural issues. If children can't express themselves properly it can cause them to become frustrated and disillusioned with school so we need to address these issues as early as possible.”

Children with language impairment represent the largest group of children with special educational needs. These children find it very difficult to remember what people say to them and can take a long time to get their messages across. The recent announcement of government cuts to speech services has made the study even more crucial.

Dr Norbury explains: “It is now even more critical to identify those children at school entry who will have persistent language learning needs, what those needs are and how they impact on a child's academic and social development. This will enable authorities to target limited resources more efficiently, while at the same time providing crucial data to argue for more service provision.”

Peter Martin, Surrey County Council’s Deputy Leader who was instrumental in ensuring the authority linked up with Royal Holloway, said: “Our priority is excellence in education and we are determined to ensure our schools unlocks every child’s full potential and this vital research will help us do that.”

“Although Surrey has some of the best-performing state schools in the country there is always more we can do, whether that’s working with schools directly or working as a team with other organisations."

The £500,000 Surrey Communication and Language in Education Study (SCALES), is funded by the Wellcome Trust and is the first epidemiological study of language risk in the UK.


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