How do you support children's speech language and communication?

Mar 25, 2022

Recognising parents as their child's first educator is at the very heart of PEN's philosophy. It is only by recognising this and inviting parents to become partners in their child's education that schools can succeed in engaging families to improve outcomes for their child.

The importance of good communication skills

Why are we focussing on children's speech, language and communication in this blog? Well, simply put, it is because it is so important. Early spoken language skills are the most significant predictor of literacy skills at age 11.

"23% of children who struggle with language at age five do not reach the expected standard in English at the end of primary school, compared with just 4% of children who had good language skills at age five." The National Literacy Trust

This statistic shows the importance of engaging parents with this issue early on. Early intervention is essential to prevent the cumulative effect of poor language skills on literacy skills and, in turn, the impact those poor literacy skills can have on wider outcomes.

One example of the extreme impact of poor literacy on an individual's life is illustrated in a report from The National Literacy Trust report in 2018. This study found that literacy is linked to life expectancy through a range of socioeconomic and health factors: people with poor literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed, have low incomes and have poor health behaviours, which can be linked to lower life expectancy. Those with low levels of literacy are also more likely to have poor health, low health literacy and engage in harmful health behaviours, which in turn puts them at a higher risk of living a shorter life.

One exceptionally hard-hitting statistic is that 43% of working-age adults in England don't have the literacy skills they need to understand and make use of everyday health information (known as 'health literacy') and that this is associated with a 75% increased risk of dying earlier than people who have high literacy levels.

Although these figures may seem extreme, they highlight the importance of developing children's speech, language and communication skills at a young age. Whilst schools have excellent systems of support and intervention in place for students in school, it is important to remember that, according to The Children's University, by the time a child reaches 18, they will have spent just 9% of their waking life in a classroom. When you consider this fact, it becomes clear why parental engagement is one of the key factors in securing higher student achievement. Pupils simply need more support than that which can be offered in 'school time.'   

So how can you help families to help?

PEN believes that the best way schools can encourage parental engagement is by developing positive relationships with parents. As Goodall and Montgomery found in their research, interactions between the home and school should be with the aim of building a trusting and equal relationship that makes parents feel like active stakeholders and contributors to their child's education. With this in mind:

  • Create a school ethos where parents are seen as partners in their child's education, and all parents feel valued and welcomed by the school.
  • Empower parents by suggesting practical ways that parents can support their child's speech, language and communication at home through providing ideas for games and other home learning activities. (PEN members, don't forget you have access to our library of 'ready to go' home learning resources).
  • Use PEN's Model Mentor Coach model to support parents and effect positive and sustainable behaviour change
  • There are plenty of free online resources that you can share with parents to help them monitor their child's progress and support them at home. Three good examples of these are:

As communication is a skill that we all use all the time, it is a home learning topic that parents usually feel more comfortable with. Because of this, it can easily be developed by families at home, provided they are given support and the right tools to help. Remember, whatever barriers they face, all parents want their children to be happy and successful. So, approach conversations with parents positively and be as flexible as possible in your approach.




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