General Teaching Council Northern Ireland

 


Rise in number of children with language problems

06-01-2010

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Some Ulster schoolchildren have such a limited vocabulary and under-developed social skills that teachers struggle to communicate with them, it has been claimed.

Avril Hall-Callaghan, general secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said 40 per cent of under-fours in Northern Ireland have potential communication difficulties – and the number is rising.

Her comments come after Jean Gross, the Government's new "communication champion", said research shows one in six children across the UK has difficulties learning to communicate because television and computer games are taking the place of family time.

The research reveals twice as many boys struggle with language than girls, and left unaided these children risk developing mental health problems or getting into trouble with the law later in life.

But the problem is even more marked in Northern Ireland, according to Ms Hall-Callaghan.

"A staggering 40 per cent of under-fours in Northern Ireland have potential communication difficulties – and the number is rising, according to the latest statistics," she said.

"That ratio rises to over half of four-year-olds with marked language difficulties in deprived areas, according to the Northern Ireland Taskforce on Speech and Language 2008."

Ms Hall-Callaghan said recent research in England revealed that a child from a deprived home has heard on average just 13 million words by the age of four, compared to 45 million in a more affluent home.

"Without the help these children require to develop important communication skills during their school lives the risks are multiple and lead, in many cases, to lower educational attainment; behavioural problems; poor employment prospects; and even a descent into criminality."

Ms Hall-Callaghan said early intervention and a cross-departmental approach on the issue was required.

"Health and education must work together - children and the issues they face can't be separated into boxes," she said.



 

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