Interview - Cerys Griffiths

Monday, February 18, 2019

The BBC’s new early years language and literacy initiative aims to halve the pre-school language gap. Cerys Griffiths, who leads the project, tells the story so far

HOW IS THE BBC TACKLING THE EARLY YEARS LANGUAGE AND LITERACY GAP?

Like many other organisations across the UK, the BBC has recognised that if a child starts school with poor language skills, this can lead to lower academic achievement and even impact their earning power at the age of 30.

So, along with several key partners, we’re developing a campaign that would raise awareness among parents of how important they are in developing their child’s language skills, to give them some inspiration to try new things and some practical tips on how to lead their child’s language development. Our ambition is big; over several years we would aim to help halve the number of children starting primary school without the expected levels of language and communication skills.

So far, we’ve been working with organisations such as the National Literacy Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation to refine our proposition. And we’re taking a firmly evidence-based approach to the messages we’re giving to parents, following advice from experts including the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, ICAN and academics from LuCid, the International Centre for Language and Communicative Development.

TELL US ABOUT THE PILOT WITH FAMILIES IN MANCHESTER.

In November we carried out a three-week pilot in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to test the tone and feel of our films and resources.

We’re very aware that parents can easily feel judged and patronised, so we want to be certain that we’re delivering messages in a way that parents are happy to receive.

We tested around 40 different films covering a range of topics – e.g. ‘Modelling’, ‘Activities’ and ‘Science’, concentrating on the parents of pre-birth to 12-month-old children.

But we’re also keen to see how our content resonates with frontline practitioners, so we tested with nursery workers, midwives and health visitors.

The results of the pilots were very encouraging – once parents became aware of their key role in developing their baby’s language skills, they were really engaged and keen to find out more. We also had a positive response from frontline practitioners, more than 90 per cent of whom said they would recommend our resources to parents.

WHAT ARE THE NEXT STEPS?

Building on the Greater Manchester pilot we will be running a much more extensive one, across the UK, for six weeks in the spring. This will be focused once again on ensuring parents are inspired by our films and messages but also on testing all the different ways that we can reach the audience. So, again, we will be testing with frontline practitioners to more fully understand how the resources we produce can bring clarity to their messaging for parents and enhance what they already do rather than add to their considerable workloads.

We expect the results of this pilot in early June, then, if all goes well with development, will aim to launch the full campaign in January 2020.

  • Cerys Griffiths spoke at the National Literacy Trust’s annual Talk To Your Baby conference, which took place in January in Manchester. Sign up for updates on next year’s conference at literacytrust.org.uk/ttyb2020.

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