As children return to school this week the spotlight on education has never been fiercer. Thursday 8th September 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of UNESCO led International Literacy Day - which aims to celebrate and honour the efforts and progress made to improve literacy rates around the world. I CAN, the children's communication charity, are passionate about championing the importance of early language skills to support literacy yet remain dissatisfied that too few people realise the critical importance that children's speech, language and communication has on their life chances. We can't take it for granted that children will develop these crucial skills.
We know that approximately 50% of children, particularly in areas of social deprivation, are starting school with delayed language. That is a shocking number of children that lack the skills they need to learn and to make friends. At the end of primary school just 31% of children with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) reach the expected level in reading, writing and maths compared with 90% of all children - which reveals a shocking gap of 59% (DfE 2015).
The impact of poor language on literacy is significant. If children display poor early language at aged five, they are four times more likely to struggle with reading at age 11. Yet, evidence shows that when the correct support is put in place before a child is aged five and a half, children will likely catch up with typically developing children of the same age. We also know that language skills at age five are the single most important factor in helping children escape poverty and poor literacy development. Early intervention is crucial if we are to ensure that children are given the best possible life chances.
Making sure that every child leaves primary school able to read well is a crucial part of efforts to turn this situation around, and particularly relevant to this year's Literacy Day theme 'Reading the Past, Writing the Future'. Read On. Get On. - a campaign coalition of major literacy and communication charities, libraries, teaching unions and publishers of which I CAN is a founding member - is focussed on ensuring that every child can read well by the age of 11. In England, the aim is to achieve this by 2025.
We are committed to taking the necessary steps to advance literacy and language development on a national scale and have developed a number of evidenced interventions designed to help children with delayed language development. This includes Early Talk Boost, a targeted intervention aimed at 3-4 year old children with delayed language development.
Much more focus is needed to make sure that all children have the necessary language skills for learning. International Literacy Day marks a vital opportunity to raise awareness around the importance of language development and literacy and calls for a decisive shift towards early action and investment to help address one of the nation's most pressing challenges.