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SCALES Key Findings

  • about 2 children in every early years classroom has a language deficit that negatively impacts learning and social, emotional, and behavioural development. Publication Link.
  • language skills at school entry are the best predictors of early academic attainment. Publication Link.
  • the youngest children in a class might not have sufficiently developed oral language skills (i.e. vocabulary, grammar, narrative) to meet the demands of the early years curriculum. The UK is unusual in sending children to school at such a young age (4 years). We think it would be beneficial to focus the first reception year on developing oral language abilities so that children have a good foundation of language for learning, for literacy and for managing social relationships. Publication Link.
  • sometimes services have used non-verbal cognitive abilities as exclusion criteria for developmental language disorder. Our data show that the current cut-offs are not well justified, and while non-verbal cognitive deficits are frequently associated with severe language impairments, non-verbal ability does not influence the rate of language change over time. Publication Link.
  • language is stable. This means that although all children are showing improvement in real terms in their speaking and listening skills over the first few years of school, the gap between those with language disorder and their peers is maintained over time. Publication Link.
  • stable language also means that child language scores in Year 1 are highly predictive of child language scores in Year 3.
  • ‘narrowing the gap’ in language skills is very difficult and it is likely that some children will need on-going support to meet their language and learning needs. How to provide on-going support in a cost-effective way presents some challenges, and the SCALES team are talking to educators, clinicians, and family agencies to consider different options.