Monday, February 15, 2010

Poverty puts children behind on vocabulary skills

A new study has found that children from the poorest families have vocabulary skills that are a year and a half behind other children by the time they reach school age. The UK education think tank the Sutton Trust put together the study and also gave suggestions on how public funding could help combat the inequality.

From the UK's Financial Times, writer David Turner talked to the chairman of the Sutton Trust about the study.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the trust, which campaigns for equality of opportunity in education, said: “It is a tragic indictment of modern society that our children's future life prospects depend so much on their family background, not their individual talents.”

The trust responded by calling for more help for children from poor backgrounds. Its suggestions, which it argued would not add to pressure on public spending, included taking funds aimed at extending free nursery education among three- and four-year-olds, and using them instead to give 25 hours a week of nursery education to two- to four-year-olds from families in the poorest 15 per cent.

The research suggests that low income in itself makes some difference to children's educational level through lack of access to opportunities afforded by, for example, a car.

However, the same research also indicates that some parenting styles associated with but probably not caused by low income help explain the gap between the knowledge of poor children and other young people. For example, only 45 per cent of children from the poorest fifth of families were read to daily at the age of three, compared with 78 per cent of children from the richest fifth of families. Many studies find regular reading with a parent enlarges a child's vocabulary.

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