Focusing on communication skills is a matter of social justice

Too many children struggle to communicate well. The reality for lots of children in their early years is speech delay, limited vocabulary and reading poverty. The results are depressingly predictable: poor progress in school and in their wider learning, and blighted life prospects. Teaching children how to communicate effectively is a key life-based learning priority.

The Communication Trust is a coalition of more than 50 not-for-profit organisations that work with children and young people in England to support their speech, language and communication. Its submission to a House of Commons Education Select Committee inquiry in 2018 on life chances included the following points:

  • “There is a strong link between communication skills and social disadvantage; they are a critical factor in the intergenerational cycles that perpetuate poverty.”
  • “… researchers have found that children who had poor vocabulary at age five were one and a half times more likely to be poor readers or have mental health problems at age 34.”
  • “Those with unrecognised and un-met communication needs are also disproportionately more likely to get in trouble with the law.”
  • “… good language and communication can often operate as a protective factor … [G]ood communication skills were identified as supporting resilience, which reduces the likelihood of later social, mental and emotional health difficulties.”

The Communication Trust’s report shows why we need children to be able to communicate well. However, the current approach to developing children’s communication skills leaves too many of them behind. There is every chance that deep-rooted problems, often beginning as soon as a child is born, will get worse rather than better as they make their way through the key stages of school.

Our Communication Breakdown page sets out some of the evidence of failure. An increasing number of five- and six-year-olds are arriving in school with limited vocabulary, have not been read to as infants and are unable to string a sentence together. Many children fail to develop the ability to speak confidently and fluently and, at age sixteen, more than a third of children do not meet the required standard in written English and are struggling to answer exam questions because of language deficiency. Students are arriving at university without the basic skills which make coherent written work possible.

A different strategy is required. The Forum for Life-Based Learning believes that we need to reform the school curriculum for young children. Communication is one of nine learning themes — each with equal priority — through which we believe the individual subjects of the UK National Curriculum should be taught, in order to equip children with the knowledge, skills and values to tackle the challenges they will meet as adults.

Read More About Communication

Image at the head of this article by 14995841 from Pixabay.

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