Thursday, 16 June 2011

We're not putting enough emphasis on speaking and listening in the early years

All year, the National Communication Champion, Jean Gross, has been making a passionate case for those children with less-developed communication. We know that they often struggle academically, emotionally and socially in school.  These difficulties affect all children, but boys especially. Being able to communicate really matters.

One way to visualise boys’ development in communication at the end of the Early Years Foundation Stage is through an imaginary parade. If the boys were divided according to their development in communication, and if development was made equivalent to height, and if they all marched by for an hour – what would we see?

The parade begins with some boys who are very tall indeed. For about the first 20 minutes, a stream of boys goes past ranging in height from about 159 centimetres to 141 centimetres. These five year olds would look tall in a year six class – the average eleven year old boy in England is 148cm tall. These are the boys who score 8 or 9 in the EYFS Profile for their communication.

During the next half hour or so, the boys who go past range in height from 106cm to 123 cm, with boys of the average height for their age (115cm) in the middle. These are the boys with a score of 6 or 7 in the Profile – the average (mean) score for a boy’s communication being 6.5 points.

The last ten minutes of the parade might catch your eye. First come the boys who measure between 70 and 90 centimetres, below the first centile of the World Health Organisation’s height chart for boys. They are followed, for the last five minutes, by the last group of boys measuring just 34 to 54 centimetres (about the same as the range in length of new-born babies, according to the WHO, with the smallest ones off the scale). The last two groups represent the boys scoring four to five points, and two to three points, respectively.

What does this parade tell us? Well, there is no reason why the distribution of boys’ heights should be the same as their language development, and maybe we get too carried away by measuring everything. But, allowing for these health warnings, it is striking to see how large a gap opens up by the time boys start Key Stage One. 

I'm afraid I think this means we're not putting enough emphasis on speaking and listening in the early years.

First published in Nursery World

I got the idea of visualising statistics by means of a parade from Will Hutton's book The State We're In.