Why it matters

The ability to communicate is recognised as the most fundamental life skill for children.  It directly impacts on their ability to learn, to develop friendships and on their future life chances. Babies are born ready to communicate – with language development influenced by both genetic factors and environmental experience. Parents, caregivers and those closest to the child have the most important role in supporting speech, language and communication development and are best placed to provide language rich environments for their children.

Early language development and communication skills are recognised as primary indicators of child wellbeing due to the link between language and other social, emotional and learning outcomes. Language contributes to a child’s ability to manage emotions and communicate feelings; to establish and maintain relationships; to think symbolically and to learn to read and write. Without support, children and young people with speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) are at risk of poor outcomes across the life course.

A young boy looking at a ladybird through a magnifying glass

Educational attainment:

  • 1 in 4 children who struggled with language at the age of 5 did not reach the expected standard in English at the end of primary school, compared with 1 in 25 children (at the age of 5) who had good language skills
  • 15% of pupils with identified SLCN achieved the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics at the end of their primary school years compared with 61% of all pupils
  • only 20.3% of pupils with SLCN gained grade 4/C or above in English and maths at GCSE, compared with 63.9% of all pupils

Social, emotional and mental health:

  • 81% of children with emotional and behavioural disorders have unidentified SLCN
  • children with vocabulary difficulties at age 5 are 3 times more likely to have mental health problems in adulthood and twice as likely to be unemployed when they reach adulthood

Lifelong impact:

  • 60% of young offenders have low language skills
  • the long-term negative impacts of language difficulties suggest that their associated costs to individuals, their families, and society across the life course are likely to be high

Taken from Public Health England’s Best start in speech, language and communication, pages 10 to 12.