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Monday, 14 November 2016 - 12:48pm

Primary School teachers in Wales say that they often see children starting school struggling with their speech and language, causing them to fall behind other children.

Nearly eight in ten (79%) Reception teachers in Wales state that they often see children who join their school struggling to speak in full sentences and over half (57%) of teachers say the same of finding it hard to make friends. 89% of teachers surveyed say that a consequence for children who start in Reception class with delayed speech and language skills is falling behind other children in their learning.  

Save the Children, who commissioned leading research consultancy, ComRes, to conduct the research, believe that speech and language delay is a primary cause of the persistent attainment gap between children living in poverty and their better off peers in Wales.*

When teachers were questioned about the effects of poverty on a child’s early speech and language, 79% agreed that poverty can have a negative impact. An overwhelming 97% of teachers surveyed agreed that more should be invested in early years services to improve the speech and language skills of children arriving at primary school.

Early language skills are the fundamental building blocks for a child’s development, confidence, and ability to learn. They also have a significant impact on their social skills, relationships, and behaviour.

Rob Williams, Director of Policy NAHT Cymru said: “We know that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds can arrive in school, at aged 4 years old, up to 40% behind their peers in terms of their development. Our members frequently cite speech and language acquisition as one of the clearest areas for additional support and unless this difference is addressed early it can affect a child’s ability to access the wider curriculum and impact on their life chances as an adult.”

Caroline Newman, President NAHT Cymru and Headteacher at Gladstone Primary School in Barry added: “We have certainly seen a significant rise in the number of our children entering school with speech and language difficulties. Children with poor language skills are at an immediate disadvantage and this can also often result in challenging behaviours due to frustration which further impedes development and learning. There is a huge need for parental awareness and engagement and also for far reaching training and expertise within our early years settings to provide the support these children desperately need.”

Save the Children’s own research, Ready to Read published in 2015**, shows that children who struggle with speech and language in their early years are often still behind their peers in key literacy skills at the age of 11. In Wales, one in four children growing up in poverty leaves primary school not reading well.

The charity is calling for the Welsh Government to use their 10-year Plan for the Early Years, Childcare and Play Workforce, due in Spring 2017, to ensure all children and parents in all early years’ settings have access to the expertise of a graduate-level practitioner, along with training for the wider workforce and increased support for parents.

Mary Powell-Chandler, Head of Save the Children in Wales said: “In Wales, much work has been done to address the persistent attainment gap between children living in poverty and their better off peers.  However, this survey is a snapshot of the issues that take hold in children’s earliest years, before they even reach the school gates.  

“Poverty is damaging too many children’s learning before they have even set foot in a classroom. If we’re serious about closing the attainment gap, and giving every child a fair start, we must take increased action in children’s earliest years.

“Through its workforce plan the Welsh Government has an important opportunity to improve the quality of care we offer Wales’ youngest children. Save the Children wants to see firm action taken so that by the end of this Assembly, all children in Wales have the opportunities and support they need, to thrive in school, and beyond.”

Other findings include:

  • 85% say that a consequence of starting Reception with delayed speech and language skills for children is finding it hard to express thoughts or ideas, and 84% of teachers say the same of struggling to learn how to read.
  • Three quarters (75%) of the teachers surveyed say that a consequence for children who start Reception with delayed speech and language skills is struggling to concentrate in the classroom.
  • 70% of teachers say they most often see children in their class struggle to understand simple instructions when they first join Reception.
  • Two thirds (66%) are saying that another consequence for children who start Reception with delayed speech and language skills is finding it hard to follow many activities set out to them
  • Over half (52%) of teachers say that a consequence for children who start school with delayed speech and language skills is that they are less likely to enjoy school.

For more information, please contact:

Save the Children Media & Comms Managers for Wales: Eurgain Haf, 0203 763 1434 / 07900 214959 / e.haf@savethechildren.org.uk

or Rhian Brewster, 0203 763 0290 / 07827 663629 / r.brewster@savethechildren.org.uk

Information for Editors

Full Results - Full data tables may be viewed at www.comresglobal.com

Research Methodology – ComRes interviewed 100 reception teachers in Wales by telephone between 12th September and 5th October 2016. Data was weighted by age to be representative of primary teachers in Wales. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules (www.britishpollingcouncil.org) This commits them to the highest standards of transparency.

*Achievement and entitlement to free school meals data from Welsh Government -

**Ready to Read Report
Save the Children (2015), Ready to Read: Closing the gap in early language skills so that every child in Wales can read well. Available at: http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/Ready_to_Read_Wales1.pdf

Further information on our calls

Save the Children is campaigning in Wales for action to support children in their early years and to close the early language gap between children living in poverty and their peers.
To ensure that all children have good early language development by the time they start primary school the charity is calling on the Welsh government to invest further in the quality of the early education workforce, by:

1.    Ensuring staff and parents in all early years settings have access to at least one member of staff with a graduate level qualification, with expertise in early language development, by 2020

2.    Adopting a robust, systematic, and consistent approach to assessing the demand for Welsh-medium and bilingual early years provision. This information should be used to ensure a sufficient supply of provision to meet parental demand. This systematic approach should include assessing whether there are sufficient numbers of staff with the requisite Welsh language skills to meet the needs of families.

3.    Strengthening support for parents, by ensuring staff have the necessary skills to support parents with their children’s early language development, particularly those parents living in poverty.

4.    Assessing how many children are living in poverty but outside Flying Start areas. Then commiting to actions to ensure these children are able to access the quality support they need for good speech and early language development.

About Save the Children’s work in Wales


Almost one in three children in Wales lives in poverty. This can mean going without essentials, or living in a home that is cold or damp. And it can make it harder for children to do well at school. We’re fighting to ensure that every child in Wales gets a fair start in life.

By the time they start school, children experiencing poverty are often already falling behind their better-off peers. As they get older, this education gap widens and can leave them at an unfair disadvantage. It is a huge challenge for children, teachers and parents.

Through our programmes and campaigns in Wales, we aim to give children living in poverty the support they need to fulfil their potential.