Here is the pitch which we sent via email to media – TV, radio and press.
On April 17th, parents across the UK will be finding out which primary school their child will going to in September.
But many may not be ‘Reception Ready’ – because the pandemic would have affected their early years speech, language and communication skills.
Speech therapist Sidonie Delaney, who runs Speech4Kids from two private clinics in Kent (Chilham and Tenterden) is urging parents to seek help in identifying whether their child has a delay or development issue, and to spend the next five months before they start school, working on improving it so that they are ready to learn, can concentrate, communicate and interact well with other children and their teachers.
If a child or young person has difficulties with speech, language and communication, they are more likely to have difficulty in developing reading and writing skills, have behaviour difficulties and difficulty in forming friendships and making social connections.
The knock-on effect of delayed or under-developed speech, language and communication in the early years can have wider reaching effects too – studies have shown a higher proportion of young offenders and adult offenders to have low speech and language attainment.
It can also affect relationships, ability succeed in education (pass exams) and enter employment – as communication is a desired skill.
Born between September 2018 – August 2019, children starting Reception in September 2023, would have spent a significant chunk of their early years under pandemic lockdown rules.
The lack of socialising with peers, family, friends, and in nursery settings, plus too much time on devices could have impacted this unique cohort of children. Each may have had an effect on some of their speech and language development; with many not developed enough to be ready to start school.
Parents may be getting uniforms and bags ready; and teaching them to write their name but there are key communication skills that their child really needs help with – and they may not even realise. Intervention from health professionals was lacking – chances to identify developmental issues missed.
Sidonie is keen to help parents to recognise if their child is ‘Reception Ready’ and offer advice on how to know if they are and what they can do to help them in the next 5 months before they start school, if they are under-developed.
She welcomes calls from parents to talk about any issues and will advise people over the phone, but where she feels there is cause for concern, will invite them in for a ’Reception Ready’ assessment.
Some children may benefit from parental intervention under the guidance of a speech and language therapist, while others may need speech therapy, but recognising that need is the first stage.
Sidonie is available for interview on the topic to help raise awareness to parents who may not be aware that their child might need help.
She has also produced a guide too – to outline what stage children should be at, expected behaviour and speech, and next steps to be ‘Reception Ready’.
1: UK Government COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report.
Evidence found that, throughout the pandemic (up to June 2021), parents/carers of school aged children reported higher symptoms of behavioural and attentional difficulties for boys than girls. However, girls had higher levels of emotional difficulties.
2: Written evidence submitted by Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) to Parliament in May 2020.
The first months and years of a child’s life are particularly crucial for language development and if a child’s language is not supported, their development may be permanently affected. It is well established, and recognised by government, that a child’s early communication and language skills are crucial for school readiness, emotional wellbeing, educational attainment and their later life chances.
Throughout the pandemic, there have been fewer opportunities for these delays in development to be picked up.
Children with long-term speech, language and communication needs which may start to become apparent during the early years, are less likely to be identified at an early stage if children are not in regular contact with professionals.
Some children will not receive their 2 to 2-and-a-half year development review at the right time – or at all.
There were reductions in S< referrals in lockdown – this may include children who have developed more significant needs due to delays in identification and support.
There is a risk that a significant cohort of children will not have their needs identified and supported in a timely way, with long term impact not only on their speech, language and communication, but also on their educational attainment, mental health, employment prospects9 and possible involvement in the justice system.
3: Bryan K, Freer J, Furlong C. Language and communication difficulties in juvenile offenders.
American Psychological Association
A 2007 study of 58 juvenile offenders found a higher rate of low language and communication skills.
The mean age of the group was 17 years.
19 were looked-after children
90% had ceased to attend school before age 16.
On the TOAL-3 subtests, 66-90% of juvenile offenders in the sample had below average language skills, with 46-67% of these being in the poor or very poor group.
None of the participants reached their age equivalence on the BPVS, but most of them reached the 12-year and above threshold on the TROG.
A total of 62% of the sample had not achieved Level 1 in literacy.
The findings suggest that these young people may not have the necessary skills to cope with verbally mediated interventions aimed at reducing re-offending.
4: I CAN research (YouGov)
A report on the effects of the pandemic on early years speech, language and development and how teachers feel about government input.
When they go to school, children should be:
Listening to longer stories and answering questions about a story book they have just read
Understanding and using colour, number and time-related words
Describe events that have already happened
Enjoy make-believe play
Make simple jokes – even if they don’t understand them
Ask many questions using words like ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’
Still be making mistakes with tense
Start to be able to plan games with others
Able to explain a situation to a teacher – e.g. a scuffle on the playground with another child
Able to tell a teacher something important that has happened in their home life
Able to talk about their family and pets
Retell familiar stories
Focus on a task for around 10-12 mins if they are four and 15-20 mins if they are five (there is a huge difference between the September children and summer children)
Take turns with other children
Talk about their feelings
Able to understand right and wrong and consequences of mis-behaviour
Playing imaginatively – role play
Start playing games with simple rules – hide and seek etc, although they won’t be able to cope with losing.
Help them by:
Having time to talk about the day – this will help their memory skills
Use pictures, objects, puppets, acting, gestures and facial expressions to keep a child’s interest
Play games involving opposites like ‘on and off’ or ‘big and little’.
Join a child in pretend play and let them take the lead – talk about what they are saying and doing rather than asking lots of questions
Reversing roles – allow them to be the ‘mummy’ or the ‘teacher’
Play with and talk about sequences of coloured bricks or shapes, numbers and days of the week.
Encouraging lots of play dates to develop peer communication (sharing, taking turns etc)
Go to groups to develop play and interaction skills
Talk about things that interest them, even if you aren’t that interested! (Dinosaurs, ponies etc)
Reading stories to develop vocabulary, how characters feel and experience early poetry with rhyming words (e.g. Julia Donaldson books – The Gruffalo etc)
Singing familiar nursery rhymes
Fun games to help develop listening skills – music is good for this.
Games that require listening to instructions – Simon Says, musical statues.
Be concerned if they’re not:
Enjoying interacting with their peers (they play on their own)
Playing with others
Happy following someone else’s ideas of games and role play etc
Able to follow an adult-directed task for a few minutes
Joining words into simple sentences
Understood by people outside of the immediate family as their speech sounds not clearly produced
Using language for a range of purposes – not just naming things (chair, car etc) but expressing needs and feelings, forming relationships, seeking information to learn and influence the behaviour of others
Using a wide range of vocabulary
Able to turn ideas into sentences
Able to speak without jumbling up their words if they are unresponsive or slow to follow instructions.
The story was run by:
BBC Radio Kent on Monday 17th April on the Julia George morning show. Sidonie was interviewed for 10 minutes by the presenter around the topic and points sent in our information.
BBC South East Today – The 6:30pm evening news featured a 4-minute interview with Sidonie live in the studio.