Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Fears over primary school pupils' communication skills

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education reporter

Primary school pupils
Communication problems often emerge when in primary school

A significant minority of children leave primary school without having their communication difficulties picked up and addressed, a charity claims.

Communication charity Ican said research suggested the problem was most severe in areas of social deprivation.

These youngsters' communication problems were often picked up later in the youth justice system, Ican said.

The claim comes as a survey suggests 50% of parents believe their children cannot communicate effectively.

The poll of 2,000 parents of children under 11 also found 54% felt they did not have enough time to talk to their children.

And one in four of these say they believe this impacted on communication with their child on a daily basis.

There are definitely some children who continue to have speech and language difficulties that aren't picked up
Wendy Lee

The survey suggests the most popular activity shared between parent and child was watching television, but only one in 10 felt this was a time when they communicated well with their child.

Speech and language therapist Wendy Lee said 10% of children had a long-term communication need that was identified and managed in primary school.

"A quarter of all special educational needs statements are in language and communication needs," she said.

But there was another big group of children, with communication problems often linked to social deprivation, who were not being spotted in primary schools.

She added: "There are definitely some children who continue to have speech and language difficulties that aren't picked up and we know this because we come across them in the youth justice system.

"When we assess them we find they have a hidden form of communication difficulty."

Mrs Lee added that in primary schools the most common form of special educational need was to do with communication, but in secondary schools the rate falls dramatically.


She said this begged the question: "What happened to these children in the summer holidays?"

The poll, published as Ican broadened its communication campaign, Chatterbox Challenge, to all primary-age pupils, suggested many parents felt that being a good communicator was the most important skill a child could learn.

Six out of 10 believed good communication involved having a two-way interactive communication, but only 17% understood the importance of developing a good vocabulary and building sentences.

Mrs Lee said parents were worried their hectic schedules were making it difficult to find the time to develop their children's communication skills.

She said: "The important thing is about making the most of the time we have with our children and focusing on the basic building blocks of communication."

A spokesman for England's Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Speech, language and communication are crucial to every child's ability to access and get the most out of education and life.

"That is why we have appointed Jean Gross as the first ever Communication Champion who will help to co-ordinate and build on initiatives to tackle the communication problems experienced by children.

"Creating the role was a key recommendation of the ground breaking independent review by John Bercow, commissioned by the government, on improving services for children and young people with speech, language and communication needs. "

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