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Wealth gap leaves youngsters behind; Study exposes the impact on spoken words.

Byline: Alison Kershaw

BRITAIN'S poorest children are already almost a year behind their richer classmates in their language skills by the time they start school, new research is due to reveal today.

The Sutton Trust report reveals the educational inequalities between the richest and poorest youngsters and the impact of parenting and a child's home environment on their vocabulary. The findings show that by the age of five, youngsters from the poorest fifth of homes are already 11.1 months behind those from middle income homes in vocabulary tests.

And it reveals that reading and library visits are essential for young children, with those who are read to daily and taken to the library regularly more advanced in their language skills than those who are not.

The study, by Jane Waldfogel, professor of social work and public affairs at New York's Colombia University and visiting professor at the London School of Economics, and Elizabeth Washbrook, research associate at the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at Bristol University, analysed the information of 12,644 British five-year-olds tracked through a survey in 2006 and 2007.

It reveals that just 45% of children from the poorest fifth of families were read to daily at the age of three, compared to 78% of children from the richest fifth of families.

More than a third of children (37%) from the poorest families have parents without a single GCSE at grade C or above between them. One in 12 of the poorest families had a degree-educated parent, compared to four in five of the richest.

Nearly half of youngsters (47%) from the poorest families were born to mothers aged under 25. The study shows a child at age five with a degree-educated parent is three and a half months ahead of a similar child with parents who do not have a GCSE at grade C or above.

Children at age five whose mothers were aged 25-29 when they were born had a vocabulary three and a half months more advanced than similar youngsters born to teenage mothers, it adds. Almost half of the attainment gap between the poorest and middle income families can be explained by parenting styles and home environment: factors such as reading and trips to museums and galleries. Good parenting behaviour, such as reading daily to children or making sure they have a regular bedtime, can improve a youngster's vocabulary skills, regardless of their background, the study found.

The trust sets out five priorities for early years education to help close this gap, including specialist outreach programmes to improve contact with vulnerable families and for children's centres to offer parenting programmes.

Government funding to extend the free nursery education entitlement for three and four-year-olds should be redirected to provide 25 hours of nursery education to the 15% most disadvantaged families, it adds.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Article Type:Report
Date:Feb 15, 2010
Words:472
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