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Poorest children most likely to struggle with language, charity says

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Save the Children calls for greater pre-school investment to close the attainment gap

Children from deprived households are the most likely to struggle with language as they start primary school, a charity has said.

Research for Save the Children showed kids living in Scotland’s poorest communities are twice as likely to have speech and language difficulties as those from better off households.

As a consequence, many fall behind other children, struggle to express thoughts or ideas and find it hard to make friends, teachers told the charity.

Over half of Scots teachers state that children with poor language skills struggle to speak in full sentences, while nine in ten say their difficulties make it hard for them to learn to read.

More than eight in ten teachers said children with speech and language delays can struggle to concentrate in the classroom while almost half said children whose language skills were not sufficiently advanced could struggle to understand simple instructions.

Poverty is damaging too many children’s learning before they have even set foot in a classroom

A previous report for Save the Children claimed speech and language delay is the single biggest issue affecting child development in Scotland, with many who fall behind in toddlerhood never catching up to their peers.

When teachers were questioned about the effects of poverty on a child’s early speech and language, over 90% agreed that deprivation can have a negative impact and 93% said more should be invested in early years services.

The Scottish Government published its education plan in June this year in a bid to close the attainment gap and recognise the importance of early language skills.

However, Save the Children said its research shows there needs to be a greater focus on pre-school years to stop this gap from developing.

The charity is now calling for an increase in the numbers of qualified teachers and graduates with speech and language expertise working in Scotland’s nurseries, to ensure that children begin school with the skills they need to learn and thrive.

Vicky Crichton, Save the Children’s policy manager in Scotland, said: “Across Scotland, much work has been done to address this attainment gap and it’s encouraging to see this is part of the Scottish Government’s agenda. But this survey is a snapshot of the issues that still exist and that teachers really feel that more resources are required.

“At the moment, poverty is damaging too many children’s learning before they have even set foot in a classroom. If we’re serious about closing the gap we must seize the chance to take action – not just in our schools, but to support children’s learning in their first few months and years.

“We want to see bold and ambitious plans to close this gap in the early years, and at its most crucial point.”