The centrality of spoken language to developing literacy and numeracy skills

Joint policy statement on spoken language and literacy between Voice 21, ICAN and Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists.

Today (Monday 6th December) Voice 21, in partnership with RCSLT and ICAN, has released our joint policy statement on spoken language and literacy, which emphasises the centrality of spoken language to children’s attainment and life chances. Our three organisations have come together due to our shared concern that a much greater focus on spoken language is needed in education. We are calling for recognition of this as part of all efforts made to recover children’s education in light of the pandemic. 

We know that having good spoken language is central to a child’s literacy and numeracy skills, academic attainment, as well as their longer-term life outcomes. As the paper evidences, poor language skills at an early age significantly impact on children’s literacy and numeracy further on in their education. This language gap only gets wider over time, and children from areas of social disadvantage are at an even greater risk of having poor language skills. The Education Endowment Foundation credits oral language interventions as one of the most effective approaches to improve children’s learning outcomes with a ‘very high impact on pupil outcomes for a very low cost’. 

The statement reinforces the challenges that research by The Oracy All-Party Parliamentary Group’s Inquiry found. There is a clear variation between the time afforded to spoken language across schools. Research also highlights the impact on the education of children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. The Oracy APPG’s Inquiry found that two-thirds of primary teachers (69%) and nearly half of secondary teachers (44%) said school closures had a negative effect on the spoken language development of students eligible for pupil premium. 

Along with ICAN and RCSLT we are urging the Government to seize this opportunity following the pandemic and take action to ensure developing children’s spoken language across all ages is a key priority, so that all children and young people, regardless of their background, can achieve their potential in school and in life. It is vital that we focus on developing children’s spoken language and communication as part of any post-pandemic recovery in education. In order to do this successfully, children’s oracy must be at the heart of this.

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