The recent Channel 4 documentary The Dyslexia Myth (September 8) highlighted the crucial link between children's communication skills and literacy. I Can, the charity that helps children communicate, is concerned that the debate prompted by the programme is diverting attention away from the primary issue - the need for children's communication development to be prioritised on the educational agenda and recognised as the foundation for the development of literacy and lifelong learning.
Research has shown a clear link between communication development and literacy and learning. Oral language proficiency influences reading development. Children who have speech and language difficulties at age five are at much greater risk of developing problems learning to read or spell.
Worryingly, recent studies have shown that there is still a significant percentage of children who start school with poorly developed speech and language.
Out of the 70,000 children starting school for the first time this September, an estimated one in 10 may not have developed the communication skills they need to learn and develop as they should. It is vital that teachers and other professionals have the knowledge and skills to support children's communication development in the classroom and are able to identify and help those children having difficulties to ensure they have a successful experience of school: both academically and socially.
I Can is calling for greater awareness of the importance of communication skills in both early-years and primary settings. The charity has adopted the term "communication disability" to encompass the problems faced by all 1.2 million children and young people across the UK with speech, language or communication difficulties or delays. The organisation is also calling on headteachers to further audit their teaching resources to ensure that their schools are able to support children's communication development and those with disabilities. Specifically I Can is calling for a national standards framework for primary schools to define "communication friendly" schools; and for all teachers and teaching assistants to receive the training they need. These measures together would support the speech, language and communication development of all children and ensure quality inclusion for those with communication disability.
Virginia Beardshaw Chief executive I Can 4 Dyres Buildings Holborn, London EC1