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Educational and clinical implications of SCALES

SCALES is the first population study of language development from school entry in the UK. The study aims to improve identification of children with developmental language disorder at school entry, and to better understand how language impacts social, behavioural, and academic development over the first few years of school.

What has happened so far?

More than 180 schools across Surrey have taken part in SCALES. During the summer term of 2011/2012, our on-line screening questionnaire was completed by over 280 reception class teachers for over 7,200 children!

From this population sample 600 children were randomly selected to take part in the second stage of the study, which started when the children entered Year 1.  Over the academic year 2012/2013 the SCALES team visited the children in school for the first in-depth assessment of their language and learning skills. Teachers and parents were also asked to complete questionnaires about each child’s strengths and weaknesses. Click here for a description of the assessments included in Stage 2.

In September 2014, the team followed up 95% of the original group of children. We repeated many of the same assessments, so we could see how much progress the children made and whether any of our additional assessments could help us predict change over time.

Key publications

We have lots of data and are working hard to publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals. Keep visiting the site for updates and links to recent publications. Thanks to Wellcome, these scientific papers are ‘open access’ and free to download:


Also check our our news and blog section for lay summaries of our findings to date.

Key implications from SCALES:

  • about 2 children in every early years classroom has a language deficit that negatively impacts learning and social, emotional, and behavioural development
  • language skills at school entry are the best predictors of early academic attainment
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.