In 2008 theDepartment for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) launched a nationalproject called Every Child a Talker (ECaT) in which funding was given toLocal Authorities to enable them to implement a programme designed to improvethe skills of the early years workforce so that they were better able tosupport speech, language and communication development and thus raisechildren’s achievement in early language as measured against the Early YearsFoundation Stage Profile. Many authorities including Leicester, Leicestershireand Rutland took part in this project and the findings were that practitionersbecame more confident in supporting children to develop their language skillsand more importantly children were less at risk of having a language delay. As early language development is so crucial to thedevelopment of literacy skills interventions which target early language and attentionhave potential for improving outcomes for all children in particular boys asthey are more likely to have these problems to begin with (Moss et al, 2016).
A strong predictor of attainment in literacy at age 11 is achild’s early language development and so inthe medium-term falling behind at five has a huge impact on how well childrendo at primary school (Moss et al, 2016). Whilst many children in England fallbehind in the essential early language and communication skills they need toflourish and succeed statistics indicate that boys are affected most and significantlyhigher numbers of boys experience language and communication difficulties(Leslie, 2012). Statistics from the Save the Children report (2016) states thatmore than 80,000 boys had fallen behind bythe age of five in 2015; and boys in England are nearly twice as likely asgirls to fall behind in early language and communication. (Or quote) ‘Two thirds ofthe gender gap in achieving Key Stage Level 4 in Reading at 11 is attributableto the fact that boys have lower levels of language and attention at age 5′(Moss et al, 2016).
In ICAN’s report The Cost to the Nation of Children’s PoorCommunication we can see that this can continue to impact on a child into the longer term affecting their chances in life p6 statesthat the ‘correlation between children with a communication disability and lowattainment, behavioural and emotional difficulties, mental health issues, pooremployment or training prospects and youth crime is high’In the short term early languageand communication skills are vital for a child’s social and emotionaldevelopment in the EYFS and so a delay in this area can affect a child’sability to make and sustain friendships, to develop a sense of themselves andbe able to verbally explain their feelings rather than relying on physical orless acceptable means and may mean they are unable to access the opportunitiesfor learning presented to them as much learning in the early years relies onlanguage and practical experiences (Read, 2016). As the Bercow report 2008 p16 says communication ‘is at the core ofall social interaction. With effective communication skills, children can engage and thrive. Without them, children will struggle to learn,achieve, make friends and interact with the world around them.’Evidence shows us that theresult of falling behind in language development will impact on both boys andgirls in the short, medium and long term but as boys are more likely toexperience difficulties the negative consequences will be greater for them thanfor girls (Read, 2016). Growing up in poverty is a riskfactor for both boys and girls, the fact however remains that the gender gap ishighest in deprived areas and so it is poor boys who need our attention themost because of just how many are struggling. In 2015, 38% of boys eligible forfree school meals (an indicator of poverty) fell behind in early language andcommunication, this is nearly twice the national average rate of 20% (Read, 2016).However, the gender gap is anissue for boys regardless of their circumstances right across England,affecting all ethnicities and all social groups.
The gender gap does vary fromplace to place, but boys are behind their female peers in every single localauthority in England and in many other countries too (Read, 2016). In terms of attainment throughperformance (from PISA 2003), of the countries selected, Sweden, Japan andFinland have a relatively high level of overall attainment and a relativelysmall gap between boys and girls. The UK is behind these countries, being moresimilar to Australia and France, both in terms of overall performance and thesize of the attainment gap between the sexes. Girls do better than boys in allsubject areas except in mathematics, where boys are ahead, and in problem-solving,where performance is similar (QCA, 2008).
It is importantto remember that gender is just one factor which leads to differences inattainment. As Younger et al (1999) identified there are numerous andcomplex reasons for such differences. Inequality also arises from socioeconomic, ethnic andcultural factors and so it is difficult to study gender differences inisolation as there will be interaction between these sources of inequality.
Inorder to understand this issue and respond to it successfully this widercontext must be considered (QCA, 2008).These early gender differences in achievement can continueto be seen throughout the primary school attainment of boys’. A study by the University of Bristol study showed thatthis gap initially seen in the Early Years Foundation Stage had impacted on theattainment of boys’ reading at KS 2 and that a significant factor was that boysbegin school with poorer language and attention skills than girls (Read, 2016). This patterncan continue into Key Stage 4 and is supported by information in the RowntreeReport 2007. An analysis of GCSE results indicated that white British boys madeup nearly half of all low achievers and that low achieving boys generallyoutnumbered girls by 20% (DfCh, 2007). International studies have also shownthat in early literacy boys’ attainment is lower than girls and as childrenmove through education this gap widens (Leslie, 2012).
The Foundation Stage Profile provides a holistic,broad-based assessment of children’s progress across six areas of learning anddevelopment; personal social and emotional, communication and language, physical,mathematics, literacy, understanding the world and expressive arts and design. Nationaldata from the Foundation Stage profile results collected and analysed between 2004–2006,indicated that more girls are working securely within the early learning goalsthan boys and that boys are achieving less well than girls across all areas oflearning (DfCh, 2007).