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Call to help poorest pupils earlier

The nation's poorest families should be given more help early on to ensure that their children start school ready to learn, a charity has said.

And new baseline tests for children beginning school should cover a child's social and emotional development as well as more academic abilities, according to the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).

Official figures show that around one in four youngsters - often those from disadvantaged communities - start primary school at age five lacking the right speech and communication skills.

Thousands more are lagging behind in their personal, social and emotional development, the EIF said.

It said that more awareness is needed about the importance of having a strong bond between parent and child and how to improve these skills before a child goes to school.

The charity highlighted Government data for 2014 which shows that across England, 17% of five-year-old girls and 29% of five-year-old boys did not reach the expected level for their age group in speech, language and communication skills.

And around one in five - more than 40,000 girls and 82,000 boys - did not reach the expected level at age five in personal, social and emotional development, covering areas such as feelings, behaviour and relationships.

"Across the UK, figures indicate that children from the poorest 30% of neighbourhoods are 11 percentage points less likely than their peers to reach the expected level in communication and language, and nine percentage points less likely to reach the expected level in personal, social and emotional development," the foundation said.

It added that a survey it had commissioned of around 1,500 parents had found that 98% of mothers agree that social, emotional and language skills are as important for those aged 0-5 as literacy and numeracy.

EIF chief executive Carey Oppenheim said: "Too many children arrive for their first day at primary school lacking the broad range of skills they need to reach their full potential.

"This can have damaging consequences which can last a lifetime. Especially as children with strong social, emotional and communication skills developed in childhood have a better chance of getting a good job and being healthy than those who are just bright or clever. 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.

"Seeking help as a parent must not be seen as a sign of failure.

"Developing strong parent-child interactions can hugely enhance these skills and provide the bedrock for a child's future success. Support and advice for all parents needs to be more accessible and more must be done to focus efforts and resources to reach parents least likely to seek help.

"When a child reaches reception, there then must be a broad assessment of their development which includes social, emotional and physical development. Focusing on academic skills alone will fail to recognise the range of skills children need to develop into successful adults."

Under Government reforms, from next year four-year-olds will be given baseline assessments in literacy and numeracy when they start reception. The results will be used to chart children's progress throughout primary school.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are committed to making sure every single child starts school ready to learn - that is why we have increased spending on childcare and the early years by around £1 billion per year.

"Families can now access a record amount of free early years education for two, three and four-year-olds. The latest research has also shown the quality of these providers is improving, meaning that more children will get the start they deserve. Getting the basics right early on is essential, so that all children can fulfil their potential."


From Belfast Telegraph