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Toddlers for poor families falling behind in speech

This news post is almost 8 years old

Charities are calling for bold action from new education secretary John Swinney to tackle learning problems in pre-school children from poor areas

The Scottish Government must do more to boost the educational attainment of pre-school children living in poverty, charities said today.

Ahead of a debate on the government’s new education plan, Save the Children said Scottish children who struggle to learn to speak as toddlers are likely to have problems later on at school.

While parents group Fair Funding for our Kids said the government’s failure to ensure all three and four-year-olds can access free nursery places is affecting outcomes for children.

At the moment, poverty is damaging too many children’s education before they have even set foot in a classroom

Speech and language is the single biggest issue affecting child development in Scotland, according to Save the Children, with at least 7000 of the youngest children struggling with their first words.

Babies living in Scotland’s poorest communities are twice as likely to have language difficulties or delays as those from better off households – and those who struggle in toddlerhood may never catch up says the charity.

The charity is calling for bold action to tackle the impact of poverty on children’s language skills from deputy first minister John Swinney, also now the cabinet secretary for education and skills, in his imminent education plan.

Save the Children’s policy manager Vicky Crichton said: “This education plan is a golden opportunity for the government to stop the attainment gap in its tracks and take some truly ambitious steps at the start of a new parliament.

“At the moment, poverty is damaging too many children’s education 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.

“Children need to start school with more than just new shoes and a school bag – they also need to have benefitted from high-quality learning and play experiences that give them the language skills to thrive.”

However parent-led campaign group Fair Funding For Our Kids says one in five children are still missing on the free nursery places. They are demanding an urgent meeting with Swinney to seek assurances that thousands of children will not miss out on a nursery place this September.

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “Most councils only offer the free hours in slots of three hours 10 minutes during term time, with no option for parents to buy extra hours for the rest of the day: an unusable system for many families. So parents end up paying for all of their childcare, arranging for their children to be shuttled between childcare providers throughout the day, or finding themselves unable to work at all.

“Although most local authorities also buy extra spaces at private partnership nurseries, there is no requirement for them to buy enough places for all the eligible children who attend, so many children either miss out or have to move to another partnership nursery, if they can find one with enough funded places.

“And because lots of councils only award partnership funding for a year at a time, a child might have to move nursery three times by the age of 5 to chase their funding. This goes against all evidence about the importance of a settled environment with consistent caregivers and is distressing for parents and children alike.”

The most recent Scottish Government figures from 27-30 month child health checks show that difficulties with speech is the early warning sign that has so far been overlooked.

These numbers expose how Scotland’s attainment gap begins long before children ever set foot in a classroom. This gap in early language skills is the starting point for a wider divide in attainment in Scotland’s schools.

In all but five local areas, at least one in 10 children under three have issues with their speech and language development and in ten of Scotland’s 32 local authorities, this number rises to one in seven children.

Save the Children’s research shows that children who struggle with speech and language in their early years are often still behind their peers in key literacy skills at the age 11. In Scotland, one in five children growing up in poverty leaves primary school not reading well.