Nursery staff should be trained to offer parents lessons in talking to their children, according to a new study, which claims the move would help reduce inequality between richer and poorer children.
The controversial suggestion comes from a report by the newly-launched Fair Education Alliance, a coalition of organisations, including Barnardos and the Prince's Trust, committed to fighting educational inequality.
The report, entitled 'Will we ever have a fair education for all?' exposed the imbalance in academic achievement in the UK, where the odds of a state school pupil entitled to free school meals being admitted to Oxbridge is one in 2,000.
Some parents will balk at the idea of being told how to speak to their own children. After all, don't parents understand how to communicate with their child better than anyone? But the reality is more complicated.
The Millenium Cohort Study, an ongoing project which tracks the progress of 19,000 UK children who were born in the year 2000, has found there is evidence of a 'vocabulary gap' from age three.
Children of highly-educated parents consistently scored far higher on verbal reasoning tests than children of parents with no qualifications in assessments conducted at ages three, five, seven and 11, the study found.
The Fair Education Alliance warns that this means by the time children start school aged five, richer pupils already have a distinct advantage over their poorer peers. This inequality persists throughout the educational system, and eventually into the world of work.
Helping parents to understand the implications of the vocabulary gap and take steps to avoid it would be a key step in shattering what the Alliance refers to as the 'class ceiling', which stubbornly holds out in UK society despite the attempts of successive governments to eradicate it.
In their vision, nurseries and children's centres would train members of staff to be 'language development champions', who would advise parents on ways to improve their children's vocabulary and use of language.
The scheme is already being trialled in Barnardos children's centres in Newcastle in partnership with I CAN, an early years communication charity.
The Alliance report outlines five key targets which would alleviate educational inequality 'from cradle to career'. These include narrowing the gap in exam performance, supporting young people to develop their aspirations and closing the gap in progress into higher education.
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