Save the Children has today launched a powerful new report laying bare the potentially devastating and lifelong consequences for boys in England who start school significantly trailing girls in basic early language skills.
Boys in the South East are suffering as a result of the gender gap – they are 10 percentage points behind their female peers when they start school. 10890 (21%) started school this year behind in basic language and communication skills. Across England, boys are nearly twice as likely to have fallen behind, with the leading children’s charity projecting that if the results of the past ten years are repeated then nearly 1 million boys will be at risk over the next decade unless quality early years education is in place across England.
The report highlights that last year alone, more than 80,000 boys in England started reception class struggling to speak a full sentence or follow simple instructions. Based on newly commissioned research from the University of Bristol, ‘The lost boys: How boys are falling behind in their early years’ finds that being behind on the first day of school is often an indicator that these boys will stay behind, potentially for life.
Nowhere in England are boys outperforming girls in early language skills, or even coming close. The gender gap is at its most extreme in St. Helen’s, Merseyside, where boys started primary school over 17 percentage points behind their female peers. In Rutland, the local authority with one of the lowest levels of poverty in England, the gender gap is still 14 percentage points, well above the 11 percentage point national average. The smallest gap was in affluent Richmond-upon-Thames which still showed a 5 percentage point gap.
While this underperformance is an issue for all boys across all ethnicities and social groups, it is boys in poverty who are falling the furthest behind. The stark reality is that a staggering 34% of the poorest five year old boys in the South East are falling below the expected standard in early language and communication. For comparison, the average in the South East was 16%.
The report reveals that those already behind at five are four times more likely to fall below expected standards of reading by the end of primary school than those who started school on track. Many struggle to catch up, do well at school or succeed in the world of work. Boys’ social skills, relationships and behaviour are also affected when they fall behind at five. In the longer term, struggling in the early years damages their life chances, employment prospects and health outcomes.
The report states that contributing factors identified include children’s experiences at home, at nursery and in the community. It also highlighted that boys are less likely to participate in activities such as story-telling and nursery rhymes which both develop language. They are also less likely to learn to stay focused on a task or have the concentration, motivation and self-confidence to learn. These are crucial in helping children to read and write.
The research identifies a silver bullet, in good quality early years education, which has the biggest impact in preventing children from falling behind and therefore closing the early gender gap, giving both boys and girls equal opportunity to fulfil their potential.
Save the Children is calling on the UK government to support the development of a well-qualified nursery workforce, with a qualified early years teacher in every nursery, starting in areas with large numbers of poor children first. Early years teachers help to identify the children who are falling behind and support them to catch up.
Gareth Jenkins, Director of UK Poverty, Save the Children said:
“Every child deserves the best start in life. But in England, too many children, especially boys, are slipping under the radar without the support they need to reach their potential. They’re falling behind before they even get to school and that puts their life chances at risk. In 2016, this is unacceptable. A whole generation of boys is being failed”
Dr Elizabeth Kilby, a Clinical Psychologist and expert from Channel Four’s “Secret Life of Four Year Olds” programme says:
“For many boys who start school behind, a life time of lost potential is the outcome. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. With quality early education, the gap could be significantly reduced.
“Quality childcare, with a focus on early learning, can offer a genuine chance for children to catch up. And it really doesn’t have to be complicated – simple word games, encouragement and reading is often all it takes to make a lifetime of difference.”