By SARAH HARRIS
Half of children are unable to speak properly when they start primary school, it was claimed yesterday.
Up to 300,000 are struggling to string a sentence together or to understand simple instructions by the age of five.
Experts blame the growing problem on the death of conversation in the home, institutionalised childcare, “electronic babysitters” – where children are left simply to sit in front of the television – and the demise of the family meal.
They estimate it will cost the British taxpayer around £26billion to support those who suffer in later life because of their early language difficulties.
The children’s communication charity I CAN, which sits on the review’s expert panel, yesterday estimated that around 300,000 pupils start primary school each year with speech, language and communication problems.
But 240,000 have “delayed” or impaired language skills due to social and environmental factors.
Their speech may be unclear, their vocabulary is smaller, sentences are shorter and “they are able to understand only simple instructions”.
In a submission to the review, Jan Myles, assistant secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that teachers are experiencing “underdeveloped parental language skills” in some deprived areas.
But she added: “In more affluent areas, it seems there are circumstances where some children experience a succession of childminders, because mum and dad are at work, or rely on the television or computer to babysit.”
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said last night: “My colleagues in early-years settings talk about children who are fairly monosyllabic when they come into school.
“One of the emphases in the early-years foundation stage is development of language and listening to stories and exploring words. We know that other skills like reading and writing follow the linguistic ability of children.”
Literacy consultant Sue Palmer said that the “electronic babysitter” is becoming more and more of a problem.
She added: “… if he or she is in an environment where they are not being talked to and sung to, then there’s more chance of the problem kicking in harder.
“Parents who haven’t been talked to much or sung to themselves are in the third generation now.
“The old wisdom used to be passed on that the best way to comfort a baby was to pick it up and sing to it, but now we can just use the electronic babysitter [TV].
“We have had these huge sociocultural changes…
“All we are doing is looking for complex, sophisticated solutions to the problem, rather than recognising that these things have gone missing.”
An earlier report by the Basic Skills Agency found that the art of conversation is dying…
All-day television, the demise of the family meal… are conspiring to destroy regular chat.