Oral language skills are critical for learning, and they matter now more than ever
Capabilities such as vocabulary knowledge, narrative skills and active listening are foundational for young children’s learning. Developed both at home and in school, these capabilities are known as oral language. Oral language is essential for young children’s learning, in particularly their literacy development and their ability to access the curriculum.
Oral language skills have always mattered, but they matter now more than ever.
The Covid-19 pandemic has widened the already stubborn ‘language gap’, that is the difference between the language levels of children from poorer backgrounds vs their more affluent peers. Ofsted have raised concerns that children hit hardest are ‘regressing in basic skills and learning, including language, communication and oral fluency’1. Recent research found that 92 per cent of teachers think school closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic have contributed to a widening of the ‘word gap’ and that 94 per cent found it challenging to support pupils’ vocabulary development while teaching remotely during the first national lockdown2.
This suggests that the inequalities facing children in our school system are being exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pupils from poorer backgrounds have suffered the most and face a greater loss of learning as a result of school closures3.
The likely increase in the disadvantage gap highlights the importance of school-based, early language interventions. Support for oral language offers an important means by which we can address the injustices worsened by the pandemic.