Boys’ language skills lag behind girls

St Helens has the largest gender gap in country
St Helens has the largest gender gap in country

St Helens has been named as the local authority with the largest gender gap in school starters’ language skills according to a new study.

Save the Children has published a report in which it says boys are almost twice as likely as girls to fall behind in their language skills by the time they start school, putting their chances of being successful in life at risk.

In the report, St Helens is named as having the highest gender divide, with a 17.3 per cent gap between the percentage of boys and girls not meeting the expected standard.

Save the Children has said its new report lays bare the “potentially devastating and lifelong consequences” for boys in England who start school significantly trailing girls in basic early language skills.

In St Helens, 31 per cent of boys did not meet the standard by the age of five, compared to 14 per cent of girls.

St Helens Council’s Cabinet Member of Education Councillor Andy Bowden said: “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.

“We’re providing more training and greater support for practitioners, aimed specifically at identifying and addressing attainment gaps between boys and girls - not just in language acquisition but across the curriculum.

“And recently the council has taken part in a major initiative, funded by the Department for Education (DfE) in partnership with Teaching Schools, using the Early Talk Boost programme from I-CAN, the children’s communication charity.

“As well as having a big impact on children’s outcomes, it’s also boosting the skills of practitioners - who can intervene quickly when a child’s language development is identified as being at risk of falling behind.”

The report highlights that last year alone, 80,000 boys in England started reception class struggling to speak a full sentence or follow simple instructions.

Based on newly commissioned research from the University of Bristol, ‘The Lost Boys: How boys are falling behind in their early years’ finds that being behind on the first day of school is often an indicator that these boys will stay behind, potentially for life.

Nowhere in England are boys outperforming girls in early language skills, or even coming close.

While this underperformance is an issue for all boys across all ethnicities and social groups, it is boys in poverty who are falling the furthest behind - a staggering 40 per cent of the poorest five year old boys are falling below the expected standard in early language and communication.

The report calls for the government to help develop a well-qualified 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 says.

“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.”