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Listening advice ignores needy

New government guidelines on speaking and listening for primary schools neglect children with communication difficulties, speech and language experts say.

They say that the guidelines are aimed at articulate five-year-olds and take no account of the children who most need help.

The advice for primary teachers was issued earlier this month by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the National Primary Strategy amid growing concern about the decline in children's speaking skills.

Linda Lascelles, chief executive of the speech and language charity Afasic, which works with children with communication difficulties, said: "It is estimated that 20 per cent of children have some sort of educational need, but this seems to be aimed at articulate five-year-olds. Children with delayed speech development will find this goes over their heads."

Teachers also dispute some of the advice. Elizabeth Osborne, an advisory teacher for language and communication difficulties in London, said a significant number of children had difficulty understanding what was said to them and expressing themselves.

"The table of 'dos and don'ts' offers some excellent advice, but also some very poor advice. It says 'don't tolerate limited, short answers'. How then do we encourage the child for whom limited and short answers are entirely developmentally appropriate?

"Also disturbing is the direction not to routinely repeat or reformulate what children have said," Ms Osborne added. "This is a standard strategy that we routinely advise teachers to use to support their language development. Whom should teachers believe?"

A spokesman for the QCA said the guidelines were not designed for children with communication disorders, but that the strategy would help all children.

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