Less reading is more

Latest findings by Rosa Klein.

The emphasis on reading and writing in the early years curriculum is having a negative impact on the development of speaking skills in children who come from socio-economically deprived backgrounds. This in turn is hampering their progress in literacy, according to a new report.

While cognitive attainment in these children is enhanced after two years of early education, their language abilities suffer, despite nearly a third of the national curriculum being made up of speaking and listening tasks. The report says that those who have minimal language skills when they enter nursery are put at a further disadvantage because the focus of the national literacy strategy and tests is on reading and writing skills more than on spoken language.

In a study of 240 children, it was found that this had led to the number of those with severe language problems at the age of three nearly trebling by the time they were five. In addition, those with the best language scores at the age of three had the worst scores by the end of the two-year period, while the least able boys and the average achievers made no progress at all.

The researchers suggest that, because of the connection between reading skills and spoken language aptitude, early years education should be providing children with more opportunities for exercising oracy, such as telling nursery rhymes and stories.

Spoken Language in the Early Years: the cognitive and linguistic development of three to five-year-old children from socio-economically deprived backgrounds by Ann Locke and Jane Ginsborg, Department of Human Communication Sciences, University of Sheffield. E-mail: j.ginsborg@sheffield.ac.uk

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