Boosting parents' basic skills would improve young children's vocabulary

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Researchers have called on the government to improve parents’ literacy and numeracy skills to help them support their children’s academic progress.

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Researchers say that improving adult literacy and numeracy is the key to improving young children's vocabulary

Current coalition Government policies designed to improve adults’ literacy and numeracy skills are overly focused on the world of work rather than family and community life, according to Professor John Bynner and Dr Sam Parsons from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies, the Institute of Education at the University of London.

The researchers, who spent 18 years investigating adult literacy and numeracy with the aid of data gathered by two of Britain’s major birth cohort studies, found that the vocabulary scores of three-year-olds whose parents had low levels of basic skills were 20 per cent below those with parents educated to GCSE A* to C level.

They also reported a ‘substantial’ gap between the same two groups in reading and spelling at the age of six and seven.

Professor Bynner and Dr Parsons, whose work informed many of the basic skills policies of the previous Government, added that there is huge demand for literacy and numeracy classes specifically aimed at parents, which is currently going unmet.

‘That's regrettable because this is one of the best ways of motivating adults to attend basic skills classes,’ they said. ‘Almost all parents want to help their children do well at school so such classes can create a virtuous circle of learning achievement for both parents and children.’

The researchers added that poor basic skills can also make ‘everyday functioning’ such as shopping extremely difficult, as well as inhibiting adults’ community involvement, as people with low skills are less likely to join social groups or vote.

‘The Government should therefore bear in mind that its “Big Society” and “One Nation” aspirations, and other core elements of social inclusion and cohesion, would benefit from basic skills investment,’ they said in a statement timed to coincide with Adult Learners’ Week.