Children Start School Struggling to Speak in Full Sentences

A new poll of more than 500 teachers from across the UK has revealed that children are joining primary school without the speech and language skills needed to learn in the classroom or start to read. Teachers surveyed said that many children never catch up and that this early language gap was dragging down school results and making it harder for them to deliver the curriculum for all children.

According to the survey by Save the Children – part of the Read On. Get On. literacy coalition of leading charities, teachers, parents and businesses – 75% of primary school teachers see children arriving in reception class struggling to speak in full sentences, read (81%) or even follow simple instructions (65%).

As a result, more than three quarters of teachers (78%) voiced concerns that despite their best classroom efforts these children may never catch up. Being behind in speech and language at age five will still affect children when they enter secondary school , according to a quarter of teachers (24%). 1 in 7 teachers (14%) even expect the impact of poor language skills during a child’s early years to be life-long.

Government figures show that 1 in 5 children starting school in England have failed to develop good early language skills and the polling has revealed that teachers are struggling to cope with the impact in their classrooms. 8 in 10 (80%) were spending extra time helping children learn basic communication skills. Almost two thirds (63%) say they now lack the time to teach other children in the class who don’t struggle with speech and language. More than half said the problem was affecting the schools’ results (56%) and the same number (56%) said that poor language development is causing problems for classroom management, as children struggling to understand or express themselves can’t follow lessons or start to misbehave.

Teachers also sent a strong message about the role nurseries play in ensuring children arrive at school ready to learn. Evidence from Save the Children and the Read On. Get On. coalition has shown that high quality nurseries led by early years teachers have the biggest positive impact on children’s early language development. This was backed up by teachers, 8 out of 10 of whom (79%) felt that investing more in the quality of nurseries was the key to improving primary school results.  A mere 15% said they felt the Government was currently investing enough in pre-school education and nurseries.

Gareth Jenkins, Director of UK Poverty at Save the Children says: “This poll shows the shocking impact of so many children arriving at school without basic speech and language skills. The government has pledged to drive up school standards but it is time that we recognised that nursery standards are just as important in children’s development. Without investment to improve nursery quality we’ll continue to see schools struggling to support the 1 in 4 children who arrive at their gates without the basic language and communication skills needed to read, learn and succeed at in the classroom.”

Read On. Get On. continues to galvanise the nation to ensure that by 2025, every child is a confident reader by age 11. For more information on Read On. Get On. please visit

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