TODDLERS struggling with their first words is the biggest single issue affecting child development in Scotland and tackling it is critical to closing the attainment gap in schools, a charity has claimed.
Save the Children said at least 7,000 pre-school age children have problems with speech and language development – and babies from poorer families are twice as likely to have delays or difficulties as those from better-off homes.
The charity warns “poverty is damaging too many children’s education before they have even set foot in a classroom” as youngsters who struggle as toddlers may never catch up with their more affluent peers.
Save the Children is calling for decisive action in the Deputy First Minister’s imminent education plan to tackle the problem.
The organisation wants three actions to be included in the plan – qualified teachers and graduates with speech and language expertise in every nursery in Scotland, training for all early-years workers in how to support language development and support for parents to help encourage their child’s speaking skills.
The charity’s researchers found children who struggle with speech and language in their early years are often still behind their peers in key literacy skills at age 11 and that one in five children in the country growing up in poverty leaves primary school not reading well.
The most recent Scottish Government figures from 27-30 month child health checks found difficulties in speech, language and communication was the area with most concerns recorded. A total of 14% of children of the nearly 60,000 surveyed had problems in this area.
Save the Children policy manager Vicky Crichton said while most children in Scotland were developing well, “a significant number of children are showing signs of struggling before they have even reached their third birthday”.
She added: “This education plan is a golden opportunity for the government to stop the attainment gap in its tracks and take some truly ambitious steps at the start of a new parliament.
“At the moment, poverty is damaging too many children’s education before they have even set foot in a classroom.
“If we’re serious about closing the gap we must seize the chance to take action – not just in our schools, but to support children’s learning in their first few months and years.”