Speaking up for the Covid generation

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Jane Harris discusses the latest report from the children’s communication charity.

It is no surprise that children and young people’s speech and language development has been hit hard by the Covid pandemic. They have lost months of being in school and nursery and daily chances to interact with the outside world. But now we are seeing the true impact this has had.

We recently launched our report, Speaking Up for the Covid Generation, which paints a worrying picture for nearly 1.5 million children struggling to be able to speak and understand what other people are saying to them. This should be a wake-up call to the Government and the education sector. It is now vital that emergency support is put in place so that the Covid generation do not suffer long-term lasting damage. We can fix this if we try.

Speaking Up for the Covid Generation asked primary and secondary school teachers across England, Scotland, and Wales about the impact Covid 19 has had on their pupils speaking and understanding. The findings show that the majority of teachers are worried about children being able to catch up with their speaking and understanding.

• 67% of primary school teachers surveyed believe the children they teach are behind with their speaking and/or understanding due to Covid-19

• 62% of primary school teachers and 60% of secondary school teachers surveyed were worried that children who are behind with their speaking and understanding will not be able to catch up

Speaking and understanding language is fundamental to our children’s future. Children cannot learn optimally, develop socially, have good mental health, or get good jobs without this crucial skill. In fact, it underpins all other skills. We should be making sure our education system teaches speaking in addition to reading, writing and maths – the last three are impossible without language

Despite the government introducing a recovery premium to support children and young people to catch up with their education after missing nearly half a year from the classroom, most teachers were critical of the government’s efforts:

• 63% of teachers surveyed think the UK Government is not providing enough support to help children with their speaking and understanding

• 56% of teachers surveyed think the government has not offered very much/ any extra support at their school to help children and young people with their speaking and understanding.

While the Government has introduced a support package for 4 and 5 year-old pupils, our report shows that classroom teachers need more support for children and young people across primary and secondary education. This summer over 700,000 children will be preparing to transition from primary to secondary school. Many of them will struggle to communicate in their new schools which will, if not given the right support, have a long-lasting impact on their futures. Helping our children and young people to speak and understand language should be a core goal for the Government in deciding the next steps in the education recovery plan. That means making a long-term commitment to supporting speaking and understanding skills by providing additional funding and training. We also need to see them encouraging schools to work alongside local authorities, health partners and other providers to ensure that provision is available to support children with spoken language. Without this, children and young people’s future looks bleak. The Covid generation needs all of us to defend their future.

Jane Harris
Author: Jane Harris

Jane Harris
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Jane Harris is Chief Executive of I CAN, the children’s communication charity.
ican.org.uk/speaking-up-for-the-covid-generation

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