Boys Are 'Twice As Likely To Fall Behind Girls' With Their Language Skills In Early Years, Report Finds

'This is having a devastating impact.'

18/07/2016 10:31 | Updated 19 July 2016

Boys are almost twice as likely as girls to be falling behind in their language skills by the time they start school, according to a new report.

In the past decade, nearly one million five-year-old boys were found to be not achieving the level expected of them and struggling to follow simple instructions or speak in full sentences, a study by Save The Children found. 

Overall, one in four boys were behind in language at age five in 2014/15, compared to 14% of their female classmates. 

The charity has warned that action needs to be taken to ensure all children have access to “good quality early education”.

“The gender gap is well-documented,” the study states.

 “It has hardly changed for five-year-olds over the past decade, despite a dramatic improvement in overall results. 

“The difference in outcomes for boys and girls is having a devastating impact; nearly a million boys have fallen behind with their early language skills since 2006.”

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The study found in the last academic year alone, 80,000 boys in England were behind in language and communication when they started school - equivalent to four boys in every reception class.

Lagging behind at the start of their school career is often an indicator that these boys will “continue to be behind later on”, stated Save The Children.

The study, which draws on official data and analysis of the Millennium Cohort Study, calculated that children who are not reaching the expected level at age five, are four times more likely to be lagging behind in reading by the end of primary school.

The report also stated girls are out-performing boys in every area of the country, with the biggest gender gap in St Helens, Merseyside, where boys start primary school 17.3% behind their female classmates in language and communication.

At the other end of the scale, in Richmond, south west London, the gap is 5.4%. 

The report calls for the government to help develop a well-qualified childcare workforce, with an early years teacher in every nursery.

“We cannot wait for disadvantaged children and boys to get to school before they receive the support they need,” it states.

“By this time many will have already fallen behind, with negative consequences for their childhoods, school attainment and life chances. We must invest in the best early years provision, led by early years teachers and supported by skilled staff at all levels, particularly in the most deprived areas.”

Gareth Jenkins, of Save The Children said: “Every child deserves the best start in life. But in England, too many children, especially boys, are slipping under the radar without the support they need to reach their potential. 

“They’re falling behind before they even get to school and that puts their life chances at risk. In 2016, this is unacceptable. A whole generation of boys is being failed.”

Victoria Flint, director of communications, Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY) told The Huffington Post UK: “While the gender gap in early years is not a new phenomenon, the expectation has always been that boys automatically ‘catch up’ once they are in school.

“But this report highlights that the gender gap at age five often has a longer-term negative impact on boys’ lives, limiting their future prospects.

“Unsurprisingly, boys from disadvantaged backgrounds fare the worst. High quality early education is absolutely key to narrowing the gap between boys and girls, as well as between the most and least disadvantaged children, with early years practitioners playing a vital role in developing early language skills.

“PACEY is calling on the Government to prioritise support for qualifications and training in its upcoming workforce strategy, as research from around the globe has shown that these are inextricably linked to quality.

“We shouldn’t simply accept existing gaps based on gender or socioeconomic status, nor are we powerless to eradicate them. World class early education would go a long way in helping future generations of children to achieve their full potential.”

Andy Bowden, St Helens Council’s cabinet member for education said, according to PA: “We’re very aware of the gender issue, but it’s important to point out that the data used in this report is up to two years old (from 2014/15).

“Since then, great efforts have been made to encourage nurseries to narrow the very evident gaps in children’s development when they start nursery or school.

“We’re also doing all we can to encourage parents and carers to help prepare their children for school with initiatives like Read and Rhyme Time in our network of local libraries.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman told PA: “We are making a significant investment in the early years sector and the number of qualified staff is rising with more trained graduates in the workforce and a record number of providers rated Good or Outstanding.

“This investment is paying off, latest figures show more than 80% of children are reaching the expected communication and language skills by age five, but we will continue working with the sector until every child gets the high-quality education they deserve.”

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