Vocabulary of poorer children 'lags a year behind'

Melanie Defries
Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Children growing up in the poorest families are almost a year behind middle-income families in their vocabulary levels by the time they start school, according to research commissioned by educational charity the Sutton Trust.

The research, which was based on 12,500 British five-year-olds in 2006 and 2007 in the Millenium Cohort Study, found the gap between poor and middle-income children to be much wider than between middle- and higher-income children. Children from the richest families were 5.2 months ahead of middle-income children in vocabulary tests by the age of five.

The researchers concluded that good parenting and a supportive home environment were the most important factors leading to better test scores at age five, accounting for half the explained gap between lowand middle-income children. Just under half of children from the poorest families were read to daily at the age of three, compared with eight in ten from the richest families.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said, 'These findings are at once both shocking and encouraging - revealing the stark educational disadvantage experienced by children from poorer homes before they have even stepped into the school classroom, but also the potential for good parenting to overcome some of the negative impacts that poverty can have on children's early development.'

Children's minister Delyth Morgan said, 'Many of the report's key recommendations have already been addressed since the data was collected in 2006. But more needs to be done to reach all parents, and by 2011 we will be investing over £1bn a year directly to support services in children's centres, in addition to the mainstream resources provided by the NHS, for child and maternity health services and through Jobcentre Plus for employment and training advice for parents.

'In addition, the Early Years Foundation Stage is ensuring that toddlers are not just sat in front of the television all day when they are in childcare, but instead are learning through play and getting proper stimulation.'

The study recommends that the free nursery education entitlement be extended to 25 hours per week for children aged between two and four, but that it should be offered to children only from the 15 per cent most disadvantaged families, and that the free entitlement offer should be combined with automatic access to a parenting programme.

Other recommendations are that children's centres should establish specialised outreach projects to improve contact with vulnerable families and that they should team up with health professionals and offer home visits.

Further information: 'Low income and early cognitive development in the UK' is available at www.suttontrust.com

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