Preschool attendance boosts language in disadvantaged children

14 January 2015

Young children from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas such as Barking and Dagenham who regularly attend pre-school have significantly higher oral language performance than those who don’t, according to new research led by academics from City University London.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the study found that over a third of pre-school children were not ‘school ready’ as they did not have the most basic speech, language and attentional skills expected for their age. The research also shows that the levels of delay were improved for children who attended at least 75% of their pre-school sessions.

The overall rate of severe language problems was higher than expected and about 10 times the rate found in a sample of much more advantaged peers. However, the availability of clinical health services did not match these different levels of need.

The study looked at over 200 children aged 3½ to 5 - all of whom had English as their first language - attending pre-schools and reception classes in London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, and 168 pre-schoolers from more socioeconomically advantaged neighbourhoods in north and south London. The findings show the impact of high quality pre-school care, along with quick and informative measures to enable early identification of problems.

Penny Roy, Professor of Developmental Psychology at City University London, said: “Our study shows that attendance at nursery in the early years really matters. We need qualified preschool staff and preschool providers trained to recognise the presence, nature and significance of early language problems.

“Good language skills are essential for early literacy and for accessing the curriculum. We need a discussion around how educational and speech and language therapy services can work together to ensure that disadvantaged children receive the help they need.”

The study compared children from Barking and Dagenham, the 11th most deprived local authority in the country with a sample from preschools serving mid-high neighbourhoods in north and south London.