Lockdowns harmed child language development

10% more children now need extra help with their language skills because of lockdowns.

The Number of year 1 students who need extra support with their speech and language skills in school has increased as a result of lockdown according to some BBC analysis conducted on government data in November 2022.

The number of 5 and 6 year olds receiving speech and language support in their first year of primary school increased by 10% in 2021-22 compared to 2020-21…

This was the cohort of children who started reception in the previous year and so had their schooling massively disrupted by the government’s lockdown policies, their chosen response to the Covid-19 Pandemic.

This kind of increase cannot be attributed to an increase in the child population or an increase in detection rates of students needing this kind of support, rather it reflects the harmful effects lockdowns had on some students.

The charity Speech and Language UK point to Lockdown as the cause of this regression in child development, suggesting that Lockdowns resulted in students missing being isolated and socialising less, thus losing opportunities to practice and develop their speech and communication skills.

The statistics above back up what teachers and speech and language therapists have been saying for more than a year now.

Primary school teachers have reported increases in the number of primary school pupils starting the year with poor communication skills, some of them pointing to objects rather than saying what they are because they are too anxious about getting the words wrong.

One thing that can help schools to help students catch up is the Nuffield Foundation’s Early Language Intervention Programme

However, this is already full for the current academic year and it seems to involve learning on Learning Support Assistants to help students catch up, just adding more to their work load.

Signposting/ Relevance to A-Level Sociology

More students starting school with poor speech and communication skills reminds me of Bernstein’s concept of restricted speech code which is a form of cultural deprivation.

This is worrying for these students because recent research from Leon Fenstein has found that if a student starts out school with poor language skills it is usually very difficult for them to catch up and he found a correlation with having poor speech at age three and lower income in later life, which sounds very much like what we have here.

It’s most likely that those students who have been hardest hit by the government lockdowns are from lower class, poorer households as it is generally these households who lack the cultural capital to help their children develop those early language skills.

While the government has committed to spending £180 million on early years development, this doesn’t sound like it’s going to be a sufficient amount of money to help ALL the students who need it.

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