Early learning crisis: 20 percent of children unable to communicate properly at age 5 – study

Reuters / Jean-Paul Pelissier
A fifth of young British children, many of whom are from deprived backgrounds, are unable to communicate properly by the age of five and face “damaging” lifetime consequences as a result, a new study warns.

The research, commissioned by The Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), shows one-fifth of children lack the personal and emotional development skills expected of them by the age of five.

Insufficient skills include their structuring of sentences, pronunciation, their willingness and confidence in trying new activities and their ability to express themselves well.

A total of 40,000 girls and 82,000 boys lack personal, social and emotional skills by the age of four, according to EIF’s analysis.

Young boys are of particular concern and are twice as likely as girls to start their first day of primary school being “unable to speak properly,” the EIF‘s report suggests.

A separate report carried out by the Foundation found social and emotional skills in childhood are “better predictors” of future life satisfaction, including adult wealth, health and employability.

Without these skills, children are set to face “damaging consequences which last a lifetime,” the EIF’s chief executive, Carey Oppenheim, said in a statement.

Children with strong social, emotional and communication skills developed in childhood have a better chance of getting a good job, than those who are just bright and clever,” she added.

The EIF’s study revealed children from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly at risk, with 25 percent starting school without the skills they require.

Four-year-olds from disadvantaged areas are 11 percent less likely to communicate well, while 9 percent are less likely to reach the expected level of emotional development, the report said.

The gap in the development [of] social and emotional skills between children growing up in poor and rich families begins at the age of three,” the EIF’s chief executive Carey Oppenheim said.

Parents who seek help should “not see it as a sign of failure,” as it is essential for them to have the right resources available to fuel their children’s development, she added.

Gareth Day, a former junior primary school teacher at Lindhurt School, was skeptical of the study’s findings.

I believe that not a lot of children have these issues unless they are diagnosed with speech, language and communication difficulties,” he said.

In order to improve a child’s social interaction skills “which they essentially need” from a young age, they must “interact with more children their own age,” he added.

Day suggested parents should “arrange more trips to play centers and parks so children can interact with other children.”

There are too many children that don’t get enough opportunity to interact with children their own age and only have adult to child communication, which is damaging,” he said.

Patrice Howe, a primary school teacher at Elmwood Junior School, told RT it is “very important” for parents to pre-train their children with these skills as it can be “extra-work” for teachers once they get to school.

He said the results of EIF’s study is due to a “significant lack” of parental involvement.

Speaking to RT on Friday, a spokesperson from the Department for Education said the body is committed to ensuring “every child starts school ready to learn.”

He stressed the government has increased spending on childcare for pre-school aged children “by around £1 billion per year” in a bid to achieve this goal.

The spokesman added “a record amount of free early years education” for young children is now available to families across the UK.

READ MORE: 'Shameless': Labour attacked for 'feeble' £6k tuition fees pledge

Reflecting on the EIF’s report, he said it reveals an overall improvement in the quality of free early learning education providers in Britain.

Getting the basics right early on is essential, so that all children can fulfill their potential,” he added.

However, the government's efforts to provide free early learning education across the UK have come under fire in recent times.

Sure Start, a government led initiative aiming to “deliver Early Years Care to children under 4”, has been the subject of sharp criticism.

As a result of crippling cuts, 700 of its centers were forced to close down since the coalition came to power. Critics warn many of those, which remain open are “doing little” to improve the success of youngsters who avail of their services.

Many Sure Start centers are operating as “empty shells,” while demands for childcare continue to “boom exponentially,”Michael Pavy,Director of Labour Friends of Sure Start, told Progress Online in February.