To the point: Speaking on parade

Julian Grenier, early years advisor to Tower Hamlets council, London
Monday, June 13, 2011

All year, the National Communication Champion, Jean Gross, has been making a passionate case for the children with less-developed communication. We know they often struggle academically, emotionally and socially in school. These difficulties affect boys especially.

One way to visualise boys' development in communication at the end of the EYFS is through an imaginary, hour-long parade. If the boys were divided according to their development in communication, and if development was made equivalent to height - what would we see?

The parade begins with some boys who are very tall indeed. For the first 20 minutes, a stream goes past ranging in height from 159cm to 141cm. These five-year-olds would look tall in a year six class - the average 11-year-old boy in England is 148cm tall. These are the boys who score 8 or 9 in the EYFS Profile for their communication. During the next half hour or so, those who go past range in height from 106cm to 123cm, with boys of the average height for their age (115cm) in the middle. These are the boys with a score of 6 or 7 in the Profile - the average (mean) score for a boy's communication being 6.5 points.

The last ten minutes of the parade might catch your eye. First come boys who measure between 70 and 90cm. They are followed, for the last five minutes, by the group of just 34 to 54cm (about the same as the range in length of newborn babies, according to the World Health Organisation). The last two groups represent boys scoring 4 to 5, and 2 to 3 points respectively.

What does this parade tell us? Well, there is no reason why the distribution of boys' heights should be the same as their language development, and maybe we get too carried away by measuring everything. But it is striking to see how large a gap opens up by the time boys start Key Stage One. Are we putting enough emphasis on speaking and listening?

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