Covid: Young children’s speech and language skills ‘impacted by lockdowns’

Young children’s language skills have been impacted by Covid lockdowns as schools in England report a rise in the number of pupils needing help with speech, new studies suggest. The Speech Link Multimedia study of 50,000 pupils in schools in England showed around an extra a 20 to 25% of four and five-year-olds needing help with language at school.

The findings are reflected in ongoing research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) examining the impact of Covid-19 disruption on primary school starters that suggests that language and communication are particular areas of concern for teachers this year.

Poor speech development can have long-term effects on learning. Credit: PA

The research suggests the lack of social contact and experiences essential for increasing vocabulary has had a negative effect on speech development in the youngest children.

Of the 58 primary schools surveyed across England by EEF, 76% said pupils starting school in September 2020 needed more support with language than in previous years while 96% said they were concerned about pupils’ speech-and-language development.

The majority of parents were also worried about their child starting school, with 56% saying they were concerned about their child going back to the classroom following the lockdowns in the spring and summer.

62,000 reception-age pupils in 6,672 schools will receive the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) this school year. Credit: PA

Two-fifths of primary schools in England have signed up to take part in a programme to support four- and five-year-olds whose early language and literacy development has been most affected by the pandemic, the EEF announced on Tuesday. Research suggests that targeted language support provided by NELI would be an important part of Covid-19 recovery.Around 62,000 reception-age pupils in 6,672 schools will receive the Nuffield Early Language Intervention (NELI) this school year. Developed by world-leading researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Sheffield and York, NELI involves scripted individual and small-group language teaching sessions delivered by a trained teaching assistant or early years educator to children identified as being in need of targeted language support. 

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