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Too many boys in England fall behind before starting school

Our new report, based on independent research by experts at the University of Bristol, explores the differences in learning between five-year-old boys and girls.

We found that boys in England are twice as likely as girls to fall behind by the time they reach primary school.

Last year alone, more than 80,000 boys had below-expected language and communication skills. That’s the equivalent of four little boys in every reception class who might struggle to say what they think and how they feel.

Five-year-old boys are less likely to engage in activities that are good for their development, such as enjoying books and nursery rhymes. They also tend to have shorter attention spans and less ability to concentrate than girls of the same age.

Consequences that last a lifetime

This may not be true for every little boy, but for those affected, the consequences can affect their childhood and damage their future prospects.

It isn’t simply a case of catching up again through primary school – children who fall behind at five are much more likely to stay behind. This has an impact on primary school results and even their success in the world of work.

The situation is particularly bad for boys growing up in poverty, who struggle most. Last year, 38% of boys eligible for free school meals fell behind. That’s nearly double the national average of 20%.

This is an appalling statistic. Despite the work that has been put into closing the poverty gap, a child’s chances of success are still too often determined by background.

Time to invest in high quality early education and childcare

The good news is that there are things we can do to help. The evidence agrees  that the best protection against children falling behind is high quality childcare delivered by caring and skilled staff.

That’s why we’re calling on the government to invest in the best early years provision, led by early years teachers and supported by skilled staff at all levels.

If you live in England, email your MP now.

Parents and childcare staff know how important children’s early years are and do a great job for children. It’s time for the government to invest in children’s futures by supporting parents and making sure staff have what they need to deliver world-class childcare, especially in the most disadvantaged areas of England.

Supporting children’s learning at home

There are lots of ways in which parents can support their child’s learning at home too. Child development expert Dr Elizabeth Kilbey has outlined ten top tips to help support children’s learning in their early years.

Simple things like describing what you’re doing, and talking about their books, games and friends can help. If you’re talking to a toddler, use short, simple sentences that are one word longer than the sentences they tend to use – so if they speak in three word sentences, try to use four words when you reply.

Engaging children in books, imaginative play or drawing and colouring about their favourite subjects, can also help. Encourage them to finish things and reward them when they see a task through to the end.

For the full range of top tips, see Dr Kilbey’s blog.

Together we can give children the support they need to fulfil their potential.

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